StudyTravel Magazine: Recovery, capacity, initiatives and lobbying in focus at English UK conference

Sector recovery, boosting capacity, association initiatives and government lobbying were among the themes for ELT association English UK at its conference last week, where it also kicked off celebrations of the 20th anniversary of its founding and officially launched its manifesto of recommendations for the next government.

May 21, 2024 Study Travel Magazine

English UK welcomed 170 in-person delegates to London for the Annual Conference and AGM, its largest since before the pandemic, as well as additional online guests. 

The association unveiled it 2023 full-year data at the Annual Conference, which showed that student numbers returned to 76 per cent of pre-Covid levels while student weeks reached 71 per cent recovery. See here for StudyTravel Magazine’s separate news story on the data.

Presenting the findings, Ivana Bartosik of English UK’s research partner Bonard, said an 80 per cent recovery was expected for the global ELT sector in 2023. She said that Latin America has been the main driver of post-pandemic growth, although Japan and Thailand have also been strong.

Jodie Gray , Chief Executive of English UK, said that 2024 felt like a turning point for the industry with government policies on international education changing and geopolitical factors globally.

Jodie Gray, Chief Executive of English UK, speaking at the English UK Annual Conference.

She said the industry has matured and is “a zero-sum game” among competing destinations but added that the UK had “huge potential to grow market share”, highlighting that the UK has relatively small market share in major ELT source countries such as Brazil (seven per cent), Japan (six) and Colombia (two).

During a panel discussion on the 2023 findings, Sally Trevor, Director of Brunel Language Centre at Brunel University, spoke about lower rates of recovery in the state sector, which stood at only 27 per cent in student weeks.

She cited the ongoing impact of Brexit on EU students and uncertainty around the future of the Graduate Route as factors and said that some Russell Group universities have lowered entry requirements, which has affected recruitment at other higher education institutions.

Stephan Roussounis , Director of Bayswater Education , said all their global destinations grew last year, but echoed Jodie’s comments in citing an opportunity for the UK in 2024 as other destinations grapple with student visa caps and in the case of Canada rollback on visa waivers with Mexico. However, he said that the UK might need to shift its product slightly as an industry to take full advantage.

Commenting on the junior segment, which reached a record 60 per cent student ratio for English UK members last year, Sam Bufton , Sales and Marketing Director of Bell , said that there was inconsistency across locations, with one centre at record levels. He said the loss of the Russian and Ukrainian markets had impacted, but noted that individual bookings are consistent and that the recent winter intake was higher than ever.

Jane Dancaster , CEO of Wimbledon School of English , said there was year-round growth in mini groups although margins are tight in this segment, and agreed that winter courses for juniors is a growth area.

Mark Rendell, Chair of English UK, opening the conference.

In her address to the conference, Jodie presented a ’20 years, 20 reasons for hope’ message as English UK celebrates two decades since the association was formed from the merger of forerunners ARELS and BAESLT.

The 20 reasons included the steady recovery of the sector, a stable financial footing for the association, campaigning successes, the strength and breadth of candidates for recent English UK board elections and a record voter turnout, and commitments to inclusivity, sustainability and mental wellbeing.

Jodie said that English UK would run a ’20 Faces of UK ELT’ campaign later this year to honour some of the people that often go unrecognised in the sector, such as drivers, homestay hosts, group leaders, caterers and cleaners.

English UK's Parliamentary Reception at the House of Commons.

During a session on Updates and Innovation in UK ELT, the association featured recent and upcoming initiatives to boost teaching and accommodation capacity in the sector, as well as to make ELT more equitable and sustainable.

Ivana presented some preview findings of a survey of English UK members on accommodation capacity, which was completed by 91 schools and is due to be published in the coming weeks. 

The survey showed that 69 per cent of respondents could not accommodate the demand last year, and that 42 per cent are planning to increase their accommodation offer for the peak of 2024.

Demand for homestay outstripping supply was cited as the biggest challenge, followed by lack of availability when contracting rooms, and balancing affordability with quality and location. Only 17 per cent of respondents said that they expect supply to return to pre-Covid levels.

Christopher Etchells of Green Action ELT, a group that aims to encourage best practices in environmental sustainability in the sector, gave an introduction to the forthcoming Green Action ELT Pledge, a three-level public commitment that will allow schools to show what they are doing to address challenges.

Leanne Linacre , Director of LILA* College and CEO of Lead5050 , spoke on inclusive workplaces, highlighting that the diversity of the student body isn’t always reflected in staffing, and that redressing that this can have a huge positive impact on the student experience. She urged schools to identify barriers to inclusive recruitment practices and highlighted Lead5050’s EquityIQ Audit as a method in doing this.

There were also talks from RefuAid, which partners with English UK to support refugees in the UK, and keynote speaker Diana Osagie on 'Growing in resilience, developing from setbacks'.

Susan Young, English UK’s External Relations Manager, and Naadiya Rawat, Compliance Manager, spoke about the value of lobbying and updated on successes from English UK’s position paper last year, including an expansion of youth mobility schemes with Korea and Japan, concessions on ID cards for French school groups and the establishment of an ELT Action Group at the Department of International Trade.

Lord Offord of Garvel, the UK Minister for Exports, spoke at the English UK Parliamentary Reception.

A commitment from the Labour Party after lobbying by member schools that private ELT providers will be exempt from the planned introduction of VAT on tuition fees for independent schools was also highlighted.

They urged English UK members to utilise the recently released English UK manifesto to get simple messages across to political candidates in their areas in the run up to the forthcoming election.  

The day before the Annual Conference, English UK officially launched the manifesto, which sets out six recommendations that the next government could implement to support the ELT sector.

Mark Rendell , Chair of English UK, said at the launch that the advantage the UK possesses as the home of English “will be lost if we pull up the drawbridge”, and called on political leaders to stand tall and protect the industry.

Other speakers included Andy Carter MP, who gave advice on how to amplify the messages of the manifesto with stories, and the government’s Minister for Exports, Lord Offord of Garvel, who said that English study was an important part of the government’s International Education Strategy

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