“It’s been a much better year for UK ELT, there are lots of reasons to be optimistic,” said English UK Chief Executive Sarah Cooper in her welcome address.
Those reasons include hopes that the bête noire of the UK international education industry, the inclusion of students in the net migration figures, will finally be tamed.
“I hope I will be saying what a good decision it was of the government to take students out of the next migration figures”
“We now have a home secretary that thinks students should be taken out of net migration figures, so now we have only one person to go – we are working on it,” said Cooper, among widespread nodding.
Speaking to The PIE News, Cooper said that the 2017 successes were born out of the industry’s flexibility to adapt to a changing market – and not just a weak pound.
“I think people have been very innovative, they have worked hard at marketing and worked with customers. Student demand has been changing – and we have recognised that and I think that’s why the numbers are looking good!” she said.
“Obviously the weak pound has helped, but I think the industry works very hard at listening to its customers,” she continued.
“The junior market has taken a a higher proportion of our bookings, but we have seen to adult market change with people coming for more intensive, more employability focused courses for example, and people have been meeting that demand,” Cooper explained.
The optimism is reflected in the English UK data monitoring scheme, the Quarterly Intelligence Cohort, which Cooper said has played a role in helping providers make more evidence-based marketing decisions.
“We have data now for the first three quarters which has shown growth or recovery in each quarter, and we are very optimistic about the fourth quarter”.
About 25% of English UK members signed up to the scheme.
Cooper has high expectations for 2018 – she even envisions the industry praising the government’s immigration policies at the English UK 2019 conference.
“We now have a home secretary that thinks students should be taken out of net migration figures, so… we’re working on it”
“I would like to think [that at next year’s conference] we’ll be reflecting on a more enlightened approach by the government. I hope I will be saying what a good decision it was of the government to take students out of the net migration figures,” she told The PIE.
“I hope we’ll have clarity about EU students going forward and I hope that through the advice that the government is seeking from the sector as a whole, the new immigration policy will be friendly to international students and will recognise the huge economic and social impact that they make.”
Clarity from the government is definitely needed, if the industry renewed optimism is here to stay, because uncertainty around Brexit and student status can hurt the market, Language Cert Head of Business development Henry Tolley told The PIE.
“Every time you get Theresa May on TV or something comes up about Brexit, it’s a question mark – and agents don’t like question marks,” he said.