It is estimated that in Croatia there are about a thousand organizations engaged in foreign language teaching in the form of trades, companies, agencies or simply language schools. There is still a market in Croatia for this type of activity, however, the supply has been steadily increasing over the past thirty years. One of the effects of relentless competition is the low prices accompanied by a drop in quality, so the profit margins of schools are low, ranging on average from 6 to 9 percent.
This situation limits development and forces the industries to constant search for solutions to reduce costs and increase revenues. There are good solutions, among others are establishing an institution due to tax relief, seeking niche by developing programs in preschool population, starting online classes, avoiding constant teacher recruitment, highlighting the market through external quality accreditation or investing in digital marketing.
The former market and its mentality, technologies and needs have also changed. A good part of us who run schools are still the same people as we were ten, twenty-more years ago.
Language schools in Croatia vs Covid -19
A look back at our case shows that our school had a steady upward trajectory of progression until 2014. Previously, the number of participants grew every year, we recruited new professors, and then we started new development activities by establishing an institution, competing for tenders for EU funds and developing new programs for acquiring key competences, we opened another language center and after many years of preparations managed to pass external certification of the quality of Eaquals. Then we reached the maximum of our learning and personnel capacities, after which there was a stagnation of high numbers that lasted for several years. This is followed by a gradual decline, largely caused by the intensive economic exodus of the population to the European Union, along with the unprecedented interest of adults in learning German.
The biggest challenge for foreign language schools, however, is the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, whose longevity has strongly affected the business of most activities and forced our industry to introduce online teaching wherever possible.
In everyday carrying with organizational and technical difficulties, it has been shown that foreign language schools in Croatia have an enviable professional level and quality of teachers and non-teaching staff. Teachers as the greatest value of a good school are constantly exposed to the greatest stress and it is necessary to find a framework in which they will be better protected and motivated, and such a framework is almost impossible to secure in difficult conditions. We felt that somewhere for a long time we were stuck with development.
Evolve or die, as Craig Charles put it. But how?
We share the state of stagnation with most foreign language schools in Croatia, and for the first time we lacked a vision – until the call for partnership in “Erasmus + KA 203 Transformation of a traditional language school by means of business model innovation” no. 2020-1-CZ01-KA203-078478. The partners in the project are HARMONY ACADEMY s.r.o. from Slovakia, PLUS Academia spol. s r.o from Slovakia, Pucko otvoreno uciliste Vinkovci from Croatia, BIEDRIBA EUROFORTIS from Latvia, Centrum Edukacyjne Feniks, sp. z o. o from Poland and the coordinator UNIVERZITA TOMASE BATI VE ZLINE from Czech Republic.
The project is based on a vision of moving classical teaching of foreign languages towards innovative and modern learning outcomes, on the introduction of a scientifically agreed business management model and full revenue control, and on addressing a corporate niche that is only superficially covered in most schools. The aim of the project is to implement a new business model that will lead to the introduction of innovations on several levels – program, organizational and marketing. In addition to the redesign of the curriculum, the project should lead to a significant improvement in school financial control, human resources management and winning margin, and most importantly – an increased happiness index in the collective due to a clearer perspective of career advancement and better earnings as motivational levers.
The project is very promising because it provides answers to the eternal problem of professionals who have found themselves in the role of managers of their own schools and find it difficult to cope with the skills needed for entrepreneurial survival in the market. Once we are sure that it brings reliable indicators of improvement, employee satisfaction and financial growth, the results of the project will be disseminated at the level of the Association for Foreign Languages of the Croatian Chamber of Economy. The project is scheduled to be completed in September 2022.
Written by: Berislav Božanović, Public Open University Vinkovci, Linguapax