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Sterling collapse: short-term upside for ELT?

The value of the pound sterling has plummeted as the markets are reacting to the fact that Brexit will happen. The UK university sector is urging calm as EU students are concerned about their status but the short-term impact is a likely uplift in study travel to the UK for English language study and to independent boarding schools.

The value of the pound will make short-term travel to the UK more affordable. Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

"I hope that once the emotion goes down, the practicalities of this will enable us to keep on doing business with the UK"

Speaking with The PIE News, Krister Weidenhielm, head of products & partnerships at ESL, one of the largest European education counselling agencies, confirmed he expected to see higher demand across their multiple European locations for the UK.

“Maybe it will accelerate the conversion of certain people [to study in the UK], or for those who were still wondering if they go to Ireland, or to the UK or to try Malta or wherever, it will definitely put the UK on a more competitive level,” he said, adding, “any time there are currency fluctuations, this has an immediate rapport with how student bodies move.”

ESL sends thousands of students to the UK every year from 48 offices in 12 countries, the majority in Europe.

“It will definitely put the UK on a more competitive level”

But Weidenhielm acknowledged that the macro-message of the UK choosing to leave Europe was difficult in an industry such as international education, noting the paradox between “the idea of exiting, when we in this industry are into the concept of unity, travel”.

“It’s normal that we feel that something has gone wrong,” he said. “But I hope that once the emotion goes down, the practicalities of this will enable us to keep on doing business with the UK and [our students] to do more than study.

“Because it’s true that the perception of the UK is great country, great culture but also somewhere where you can find a part-time job. It’s part of the package perception.”

Maria Castro Blazquez at Linguland, a Germany-based education agency, said that the UK voting to leave the EU will add a dose of uncertainty to the industry.

“I think this is not good for the UK and this is not good for the rest of Europe because it weakens us,” she ventured, adding that due to the sterling losing value “we can all try and see an opportunity there at least in the short and mid-run, which means that students are going to book the UK”.

“In the short term I think it’s going to be an increase of bookings for the UK, because of the currency issue,” she added, suggesting that “in the long run, the UK will get less students”.

But Mark Lindsay, CEO of a large English language school group, St Giles International, issued a statement of support for agent partners, saying he considered that at a time of trade uncertainty “we feel it is improbable that visa policy will shift against your students”.

He suggested that for agents, “in the short-term, there are likely to be positive opportunities for you” given the currency depreciation and urged partners, “As we say in Britain, let’s ‘Keep calm and carry on’!”

“On the whole everyone is seeing it as a positive… but that’s on the short-term”

Ryan Henderson, international admissions officer at Cognita Schools, a network of 69 schools globally including 43 in the UK, agreed that the short-term benefits to providers are clear.

“We’re a lot more affordable at the moment,” he told The PIE News. “There are more Asian students on younger student visas coming over with their parents who buy houses. This will probably make it more affordable to do that.”

Although uncertainties still exist around the status of European students, Henderson said he expects independent schools will eventually be able to charge European students international student fees.

“It might mean that we’re not as accessible to EU students but the families who can afford to pay for independent schools won’t find it [a rise in fees] that difficult,” he said. “On the whole everyone is seeing it as a positive… but that’s on the short-term.”

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