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President of the Association of Schools of Italian as a Second Language (ASILS)
Francesca Romana Memoli

This week, we interview Francesca Romana Memoli, President of the Association of Schools of Italian as a Second Language (ASILS), about the association's trends and activities and the Italian language market.

Firstly, can you tell us a little about the Association of Schools of Italian as a Second Language (ASILS)?

 

We are a quality association of 44 members schools, located all over Italy, with a heavy concentration in Lazio, Tuscany and the North of the country especially. We don't do marketing as all members do marketing by themselves. We work in a political lobbying capacity for institutional matters.

  

 I gather you also collect detailed statistics. So how was 2015 for ASILS schools?

 

The trend was very positive because we had a very good increase in the number of students enrolled in the 44 schools. We also increased the variety of courses we presented as an association. We offered many more courses in order to recruit different targets of clients.

 

Our main goal is to extend the average stay. Usually people travel for pleasure, culture and tourism. We can only increase the average length of stay by increasing the variety of programmes.

 

The total number of courses was 346 in 2015, compared with 330 in 2014. This includes group classes, business Italian, preparation for university, 50+ courses, cultural programmes and so on. The number of cultural courses remained the same at 135, so this shows that ASILS schools are very focused on language programmes.

 

Accordingly, we also increased the number of staff. This is very important, as the number of employees in Italy as a whole is not growing. In 2015, we employed 570 teachers and 316 non-academic staff, which was a 17 per cent increase compared with the previous year.

 

And how about the student numbers?

 

This is the most important data, of course. There were 27,453 students at ASILS schools in 2015, around 1,300 more than in 2014. This was an average of 624 per school last year, compared with 609 the year before.

 

The top market was the USA, which increased by 11.4 per cent, followed by Germany (+11.4), Switzerland (-17.7), Austria (-11.4) and the UK (+30).

 

There were decreases from three or four markets. The biggest of these way maybe Russia, which declined by 21.9 per cent due to the political and economic reasons.

 

Switzerland was down for a combination of reasons, including the value of the currency. And another reason could be that we generally have many high school students from Switzerland and Austria. It could be that parents are scared about sending their children abroad at the moment.

 

Brazil increased by 1.8 per cent, but this was nothing compared to the increases of the previous years.

 

Focussing on the more positive markets, the UK and the USA are for economic reasons, which are always crucial. When the euro is strong, we lose clients. This year the reverse happened. Overall, we had many good markets in 2015.

 

How about the student weeks in 2015?

 

Student weeks increased by 6.8 per cent to 122,893 in 2015. The average stay rose slightly from 4.4 weeks to 4.5 weeks.

 

The business is concentrated on the summer as 34.1 per cent of students came between July and September. This data is explainable because we have many universities which send groups in the holidays.

 

What is the age profile of students in Italy?

 

The biggest cohort is the 18-to-25 group, which accounted for 35.3 per cent of students. Next is 26-to-35 (23.3 per cent); 36-to-50 (18.6) and 50+ (16.4).

 

The 50+ cohort is quite high compared to most language destinations we survey in StudyTravel Magazine.

 

Yes, 50+ is a very good target for Italian language schools, much better than the junior market. For sure, parents prefer to send their children to English-speaking countries, whereas mature people come to Italy for pleasure, tourism and culture.

 

Do you track how students were sourced?

 

Yes, 33.9 per cent of students in 2015 came via the internet and 32.9 per cent were recruited from agents, so you can see that agents and the internet are nearly at the same level. In addition, 13.1 per cent came from direct bookings, 11.8 per cent came from universities, and 3.7 per cent came from schools.

 

What was the value of the market in 2015?

 

The revenue from tuition only for ASILS member schools was ?22.2 million, an increase of around ?2 million over the previous year. In the context of the Italian national economy, this is a very good result. The overall contribution including accommodation and spending was ?50.1 million.

 

Are there any major issues facing the Italian language school sector?

 

Visas remain an issue for Italian language schools. In the Italian system there is still not a visa for a language course like you have in the UK. There is a gap in Italian law. We are always working hard to improve this situation and to work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

 

ASILS has become an important reference in improving the loophole. Students can get a study visa because now ASILS has become more popular and recognised in Italian consulates. ASILS has a quality reference for them.

 

From China and India, we have many requests but there are some problems, although China is getting better.

 

 

Francesca Romana Memoli is President of the Association of Schools of Italian as a Second Language.

 

 

This is an unabridged version of an interview that appears in the Italy Market Analysis feature that appears in the current November 2016 issue of StudyTravel Magazine.