Making a Successful Small Language Center
My current work assignment is at AUA Korat in Thailand. Having completed a 6 month project to check and get AUA Muang Thong Thani running efficiently, I now find my self in the North East of Thailand in Nakhorn Ratchasima also known as Korat. AUA Muang Thong has been handed over in a fit state to a new manager.
This is a new challenge as AUA Korat has only about two hundred students per term and the AUA tuition rates are low being based around a model of low cost-high volume. Two hundred is not really enough to support overheads in an AUA standard model branch. The project is to make a successful small language center. This is fairly big challenge, and my first time at such a small branch. Previously I have either managed medium size (500 students pert term) or a large branch, which hit a high of 3500 students per term. The challenges in these were different as it was more about managing large numbers of staff and students and making efficient use of facilities.
AUA Korat is different as there is a need to ensure the branch stay in the black and then move to longer term profitability. If this is achieved it will be a successful small language center. Prior to my time ensuring a high standard of academic quality was tried. However, it proved difficult to maintain this as the town itself was not always conducive to maintaining teachers. I was also informed by the previous manager that he also now concluded that such an approach may not be the answer, too.
Another problem with the branch is that the location is far from ideal and there is increased competition at better locations. In at least the medium term a change of location would also be unlikely due to a few factors that should not be mentioned here. To try and overcome these problems, a variety of traditional alternative courses to the regular AUA 15 level 4-skills course were also tried. These included corporate and academic off-site teaching and some scheduled one to one and small group courses. While these increased performance, they did not take the branch to the next level, and with the previous manager leaving that aim could not be completed.
From my perspective, the most interesting new course introduced was a high cost course involving the use of two teachers. This will be continued. Obviously in a location that attracts lower numbers high cost-low volume courses make sense as long as the market can absorb the cost. However, with an underlying couple of hundred students on the regular course the branch is close to breaking even. Unseen expenditure though can undermine this situation quickly.
AUA Korat Community Branch
The drive to create a successful small language center in Korat will be based around creating a community branch. The language center as a community branch will be:
- part of the local community of Korat.
- meets the English needs of the local community.
- has its own active internal community.
- is active within the community of the AUA diaspora.
Being in its twelfth year AUA Korat has completed its first cycle. As such it is an ideal time to relaunch the branch. This means not just a simple rebrand and media events although these will be part of the goal. There must also be substance in new offerings to meet the changing needs of the Korat community. We will also concentrate on the social media communities of Korat and the region. The substance will consist of courses and services set out in general below. However, there will also be a marked movement to partake in and be part of local events by others. On top of this partnerships with local organizations which offer mutual benefit would seem another way forward. That AUA Korat is run in partnership with what AUA terms a Thai Working Group gives us both experience of this and opportunity to make further bonds in the community.
AUA Korat New Flexible Courses
The aim from now is to supplement the regular courses and traditional alternatives with a smorgasbord of flexible and variable courses which do not need a set number of people to run, but can run with one or one hundred students. These can only be taught by salaried members of staff. In the case of the branch, this means the manager. There is also a marketing advantage in having courses taught by the manager or supervisor. These courses will be aimed at being a mix of teaching, hints and feedback provided via a mix of face to face and electronic contact. Work can be done by students in their own time with appointments made for face to face seminars/workshops or contact being more instantaneous via electronic contact. As these are early days, this model will be adapted based on how it performs. Now obviously this model does not support conversation. It will initially be aimed at the following courses, in which individual work and learning can be done:
- Academic test preparation.
AUA Korat Flexible Services
With the advent of the Asian Economic Community imminent, it is obvious that there is and will increasingly also be a demand for English language services such as checking, editing, proofreading, coaching and other consultancy work. This opportunity will be packaged as two distinct offerings:
- English Guru aimed at the general public.
- Executive Service aimed at business and executive level clients.
Well they are the aims that I have developed to turn Aua Korat into a successful small language center. Now comes the hard work of implementing them. I will blog more in the future on how that goes.