The Iranian EFL market is one of the largest in the world, with an estimated 16,000 language centres employing hundreds of thousands of teachers, training millions of students.
Teachers are highly skilled and highly qualified, having travelled abroad for CELTA training and obtained masters degrees in Teaching and TEFL.
The demand for ongoing professional development in Iran is therefore huge. However Iranian EFL teachers and managers can have difficulties obtaining visas to travel to workshops abroad, and trainers and lecturers have similar issues working in Iran.
Levant Education works across markets in Western Asia and provides solutions for such challenging circumstances. This week we had the pleasure of welcoming 20 Language Academy Directors from Tehran, to our Istanbul HQ. The Directors work for one of Iran’s leading language training companies, employing 1000 teachers and educating 30,000 students per term.
Multi-lingual, multi-talented and multi-functional Thom Jones lead a lively and enjoyable day’s training covering creative teaching methods, motivation strategy, management challenges and best practice.
David Mitchell, Levant Education Director: “Thanks to a lot of great work by our Turkish and Iranian colleagues – and excellent partners such as Thom and our clients in Iran – we are really excited by the possibilities for international education and EFL development in this exciting market”.
With the opening of our Iran offices in Tehran and Isfahan, we are delighted to invite Higher Education and Pathway partners to attend seminar/interview sessions to meet Iranian students and their families.
Levant Education has led 2 market entry missions to Iran in the past year, and has developed online/social media channels to support education marketing in Farsi.
Our teams in Istanbul, Tehran and Isfahan are preparing for sustained marketing campaigns in Iran in the coming months and year ahead.
Levant Education HE partners
Seminars in Tehran and Isfahan: £2950 (Tehran only £2500)
Supported by targeted social media campaign, magazine distribution, database communications and WoMM. Senior Levant Education personnel can stand in where travel to Iran is difficult, e.g. visa issues.
Credit card payments are not available in Iran, and bank transfers are difficult. Levant Education will ensure hotel bookings and internal travel are safely arranged.
For more information and a registration form, please complete the following form:
We are looking forward to welcoming partners from Higher Education and HE pathways to our Baku events in April.
“I thought the event was very well run and the quality of the prospective students I met was mostly very high. There also seemed to be a good number of attendees.” Dan Newby, London School of Economics & Political Science, October 2016
Now in its 5th year in Azerbaijan, this will be our 8th education exhibition in Baku since 2012. We have maintained our focus on high quality exhibitions and networking events, working with the Azerbaijan Ministry of Education, SOCAR and SOFAZ, local schools and universities to ensure successful alignment with local institutions.
Institutions attending in the past 2 years include London School of Economics, Kings College London, University of Manchester, University of Glasgow, Warwick University, University College London, Aberdeen University, Aberystwyth University, Cardiff University, University of Edinburgh, University of Newcastle, University of Southampton, Kings Colleges, Bell University Pathways, and many more.
Universities can choose to attend whether working with Levant Education
All registered attendees will be supported by a full, local-language profile on Studybritish.com or Levanteducation.com in Azerbaijan. The event will be expertly marketed to attract a focussed attendance for better conversion rates.
Once we have received your registration, exhibitors will be invited to participate in the local High School visit, and the Alumni & VIP networking reception.
In late-April 2017 Levant Education Managing Director David Mitchell led a Higher Education mission to Iran, with a busy programme of high level meetings with experts and leaders from the Higher Education, Vocational Education and Language Education sectors.
Iran is one of the most important countries in the region for Higher Education and Research, producing (with Turkey and Israel) the bulk of research in the Middle East. 25% of Iranian research is co-authored internationally, with the favoured partners being from the USA, UK, Canada, Germany and France.
The mission included visits to the universities of Tehran, Sharif University, Shahid Beheshti, Shahid Rejaie, Islamic Azad University, The University of Applied Sciences & Technology (the largest public university in Iran, preparing nearly half a million students for the world of work), the National Oil Company and associate bodies, as well as private HE colleges, private High Schools and Language Training Institutes.
The busy schedule gave delegates a full and detailed entry into the education sector in Iran, which has seen exceptional growth in recent years owing to a youthful demographic. At the same time, economic growth and international re-engagement is driving demand for language and vocational / business training.
During the mission, the key themes became clear: access to international education and training, the need to upgrade/modernise education provision, access to international validation, accreditation and materials, and access to internationally recognised qualifications. Education providers at every level were keen to engage with partners abroad, and local demand is pushing providers to offer better and more internationally focussed programmes.
Meanwhile, with 50,000 Iranian students enrolling abroad every year, opportunities for international recruitment are multiplying as the US – usually the top destination for Iranian students – closes its borders to people from majority-Muslim countries.
At the end of April Levant Education undertook a mission to Iran with colleagues from Higher Education in Ireland and Canada, in order to assess the education landscape in the country.
Sponsored by University College Cork (Ireland) and University of Alberta in Canada, the mission covered all aspects of education in Iran, including state and private provision, High Schools, Language Schools, Universities and Colleges.
With a young demographic – 40% of the 80 million population of Iran are under 25 – education and training are key aspects of the economic growth promised by presidential candidates in the upcoming election. Incumbent President Rouhani – who has pinned his hopes for growth and re-election on increased economic engagement with the rest of the world – is facing 5 officially approved challengers for the top spot.
The Levant Education mission was the 2nd this academic year – the first one organised with London-based Middle East Association was beset by visa and permission issues. This time there were no such worries, and the delegates enjoyed a packed programme.
Our delegation visited a semi-private university with a national enrolment of 1.6 million students, a vocational college with 478,000 students, and a language school with 2000 teachers! While average incomes and therefore fees are lower than in the West, numbers like that allow for interesting economies of scale.
‘Montaj’ and the importance of international branding
A common theme you encounter in Iran in the importance of international branding and recognition. For many years copies (or ‘montaj’) of international brands were developed, with varying degrees of success or quality. Since the sanctions were partially lifted last year, it has become easier to buy the better quality ‘real thing’, and wealthier Iranians in particular enjoy the social status of driving a BMW, owning an iPhone or wearing European clothing brands.
This desire for international brands is also important in education – although frustrations remain. All teachers of English in Iran crave the CELTA teaching certificate – but with no CELTA courses in Iran, candidates must travel to other countries to take it, for 4 weeks… The course, travel and hotel fees add up to around GBP2000 at least, a huge amount for a teacher, if they can get the time off.
International exams for students are available, but only at a select number of institutions. Centres must be either licensed by IDP (due its political agenda, the British Council is banned in Iran) for IELTS exams, or work with the locally approved Cambridge agent for FCE/CAE/CPE exams. Naturally, established language centres that do not have these licences, for whatever reason, complain about the effect on the playing field for their businesses.
Both state and private universities or colleges are eager for international partners to better commercialise their courses. While many international partnerships have been struck up with Iranian HE providers, the trick seems to be making them last.
Suspension of Belief
With the Presidential election underway, tensions with the Trump government and US/Israeli hawks, US and British support for the Saudi intervention in Yemen, and the holy month of Ramadan beginning at the end of May, earlier optimism in Iran discernible in October last year has now wained as people hold their collective breath.
President Rouhani only narrowly won the election last time around, with 51% in the first round. This time he faces competition from moderate progressives and ‘principalists’ – Islamic conservatives.
If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote on May 19th, a second round will follow between the top 2 candidates.
Levant Education led the first UK HE mission to Iran in September 2016, following the lifting of international sanctions and installation of ambassadors in London and Tehran.
The mission – to Tehran, Shiraz and Isfahan – suffered from visa refusals and local tensions over meeting US/UK visitors. However representataives from UCL, Nottingham, Reading, Bradford and Southampton universities were able to travel for meetings with the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance, State and Private HE institutions, and with UKTI at the British Embassy.
While the diplomatic and economic relations still have some way to go before any semblance of normality, it was clear from the meetings that there is a great interest in UK education, a keenness for partnerships and joint ventures, and massive demand for education abroad. The full market report is available exclusively through Levant Education, and provides essential background and statistics for anybody interested in the education market in Iran. We will be returning to Iran in April 2017.
The British Council has issued an apology for a ‘lapse’ that saw it take advantage of Levant Education’s business and collaboration with the FCO in Azerbaijan to launch its own competing offer in the same market.
What happens when a UK private enterprise seeks (and pays for) support from the British government in new markets? If that company is in the business of international education, it is likely to find that it has flashed up on the radar of an aggressive, state-funded competitor.
In 2012 UK education company Levant Education commissioned support from UKTI, the FCO and the British Council to launch UK-focussed education fairs in Azerbaijan, after successfully launching similar events in Turkey. That support cost Levant Education thousands of pounds for UKTI/FCO facilities (the event reception was hosted at the UK Embassy, where the Ambassador spoke to a specially invited audience) and would go on to cost a lot more.
At the reception, and subsequently at the exhibition itself the next day, British Council staff quietly approached the university representatives who had joined the ground-breaking event. As BC ‘Head of HE and Education Services’ Gordon Slaven’s apology admits, they “used the opportunity to enquire into participants interest in a possible British Council exhibition.”
During the ‘independent’ investigation conducted by Verita (paid for by the British Council…) in London, British Council staff admitted that they had been under pressure to identify ways to increase revenue and make more money in 2012, as the government grant was being cut. That drive to be more commercially aggressive is what undoubtedly pushed BC staff to abuse its FCO status in Azerbaijan to gain unfair competitive advantage, going into direct competition with a private enterprise that had both paid the FCO for its assistance, and secured a promise of non-competition from the British Council Regional Director, Helen Silvestre.
British Council SIEM (Services for International Education Marketing) products – exhibitions, market reports, online marketing – were launched in Azerbaijan in 2013, following Levant Education’s first successful exhibition. The British Council is seen as a government office, an FCO agency, and a charity – useful branding and cover for its lucrative commercial operations that generate £1 billion every year, tax-free, from IELTS testing, English teaching, Education Marketing and education related contracts.
The Verita investigation uncovered incredible duplicity from British Council staff in Baku and Istanbul. While working with Levant Education on its new project, in apparent harmony and good humour, they were simultaneously working to duplicate the event and sell the idea to UK universities and education providers.
Levant Education Managing Director and owner David Mitchell writes:
The British Council’s recently introduced ‘Independent Complaints Process’ has failed its first test since a critical Foreign & Commonwealth Office Triennial Review highlighted competition and accountability issues in 2014.
The Council has half-heartedly apologised for its blatant hijacking of our business in Azerbaijan. However the Verita investigation report was carried out as a paid-for service for the British Council, covering up more than it revealed. The final report skates over unfair competition issues, provides for no accountability for Management decisions taken in Istanbul and Baku, and goes to great lengths to ‘blame the victim’ – bizarrely finding that Levant Education was in some way to blame because it later dared to publicly complain about the BC’s dishonest behaviour.
The report also fails to address the financial impact on Levant Education: between money invested in the project, fees to UKTI/the FCO, and lost earnings due the unfair state competition, Levant has lost a six figure sum after making the mistake of trusting the FCO, UKTI and British Council.
Levant Education will be seeking a review from the parliamentary ombudsman, and seeking legal advice also. A genuine investigation needs to be conducted by an independent body, rather than a paid-for public relations service on behalf of the government agency. The British Council should not be allowed to compete for competitive commercial services while disguised as a government agency/FCO department/charitable concern. The BC’s actions in Azerbaijan, and in Turkey (where it also ignored promises made in regards to fair competition) were dishonest, anti-competitive and devious. The apology is a start, but once again the British Council has been shown to be more concerned about commercial gain and face-saving PR than about accountability, transparency or fair competition.