Britain sees slowdown in Japanese studying English

Britain sees slowdown in Japanese studying English
(Kyodo) _ The number of Japanese learning English in Britain has slowed in recent years, amid signs that growing numbers of young people from East Asia are opting to study in their home country rather than venture overseas.

Experts put the tailing off down to many factors, including the state of the Japanese economy, falling birthrate, the popularity of Chinese and the increasing provision of English language teaching in the region.

The findings formed part of a report commissioned by the British Council and recently presented to a seminar in London. The study argues English language teachers and schools in Britain need to diversify the scope of their services in order to keep up with the changing landscape.

The report by market research company, JWT Education, describes the global market as a “growing, changing, volatile and challenging creature.”

According to figures provided by the Council, the number of weeks spent in Britain by Japanese studying English fell between 1997 and 2001, and has plateaued out in recent years. In 1997, Japanese spent 170,100 weeks in Britain. By 2001, this had fallen to 123,626 weeks.

In 2002, the figures picked up again and in 2004 Japanese spent 135,347 weeks in the United Kingdom. However, numbers are expected to be down for 2005.

The figures for Japan were also reflected in the overall statistics for the British market. The English language sector registered growth every year from 2001-2004 following a four-year-long period of decline. But preliminary data for 2005 show mixed results and a potential modest decline based on the number of weeks spent by students in Britain, according to the report.

Despite the slowdown in recent years, Britain continues to attract the highest number of international English language students. And Japan is the second biggest source of English language students for schools in Britain. However, the report notes that demand from Japan is “slowing.” Chinese, South Korean and Italian students are also some of the largest sources.

Recent years have seen a huge growth in South Korean and Chinese students but the latter declined substantially in 2004.

The report says that while Britain remains the leading destination for English language students, its dominant position has “lessened somewhat.” The United States, which is the second most popular destination also saw a decline between 2000 and 2003 but experts put this down to security fears and a tightening up in immigration rules.

The report found, however, that Australia recorded strong growth from 1997 to 2005, which attracts a large proportion of students from Japan and other Asian countries.

Emma Parker, education promotion officer at the British Council in Japan, said all of the large English-speaking countries — Britain, the United States and Australia — had seen reductions in Japanese students. She added that the number of Japanese going to overseas universities appeared to be falling, and this inevitably impacted on applications for English courses. (many students take English language courses before studying at a foreign university).

As well as the simple fact that there are fewer younger Japanese people, Parker put the decline down to “more and more potential study destinations, and so increased competition.”

She said there were several Japanese-owned English language schools located in nearby Asian countries and, “although English skills remain very important in Japan, people’s interests and employers’ requirements are diversifying.

“Chinese, in particular, is growing in popularity as a language to learn.”

Parker said courses were quite expensive in Britain, as the JWT report noted and, given the pound’s current strength against the yen, this could act as an added disincentive.

Parker and her team promote Britain as a study destination to Japanese students by holding exhibitions, distributing leaflets and running websites. They also work with agents who arrange study trips to Britain.

They are also increasingly trying to encourage more Japanese undergraduates to come and study in Britain, with the balance between graduates and undergraduates currently standing at fifty-fifty. The hope is that Japanese students will study English for a year before progressing to university.

The report identified new ways for providers to increase business in Britain in the English language sector. This includes providing exams for international corporations, establishing more links with overseas institutions, increasing English language teacher training and teaching high-level English for business purposes.

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