In Spain (my adopted home) the regional governments operate a network of Official Language Schools (EOIs) which offer heavily subsidised language courses to the local adult population. (In Catalonia, where I live, the minimum age required to attend such a course is 16, although students aged 14 or older can also sign up to study a language they’re not taking at school.)
Course fees are significantly lower than they would be in the private sector. For example a145-hour course at an EOI in Barcelona currently costs around 300 €. A comparable course in the private sector would cost well over 1,000 €.
Class sizes in EOIs are generally quite large – often over 20 students per group – at least for the most popular languages such as English, French or German. This compares to a standard maximum group size of around 10-12 in the private sector.
Despite the larger group size, EOI courses are heavily subsidised by the tax payer. As an EOI website professes (in slightly clunky English): the courses have a much higher actual cost than what students pay …
If you want to study a less popular language (Portuguese, Korean, …) you’re pretty much guaranteed a place on a course; the problem you may face is that there are not enough people who want to study your chosen language at your level.
However, if you are a new student and want to study one of the ‘demand high’ languages, you put your name down and then there’s a random drawer to select applicants to fill the places available. If your name is picked out, you get a place on a course; if you’re not picked, you’re not admitted, although you may be able to put your name on a waiting list, in case there are any dropouts.
You might expect me, as CEO of a group of private (unsubsidised) language schools, to object vigorously to this use of tax payers’ money. Not quite.
I’m all in favour of the public sector offering courses in languages that the private sector can’t readily provide (Portuguese, Korean, …). I’m also in favour of the public sector offering subsidised courses in ‘demand high’ languages such as English, French and German to those people who simply couldn’t afford to study at a private school e.g. the long-term unemployed, or people belonging to a family with an income of less than X thousand Euros a year.
But is seems a little odd that everyone is eligible to take one of these subsidised courses.
The system is fair in that it admits all comers. It’s unfair in that it often selects those people who could afford to pay for a course at a private language school and consequently leaves out those people who can’t.
What do you think? Should the state provide subsidised language courses to anyone who wants one, irrespective of their economic circumstances? Is there a similar network of public sector language schools in your country? If so, how do these operate?
All comments welcome.