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StudyWorld delegates told UK ELT sector must be poised to pivot

As the annual StudyWorld event celebrated its 50th anniversary at London’s Queen Elizabeth II Centre, just a few minutes walk down the road the new prime minister Boris Johnson lost his commons majority after the dramatic defection of a Conservative MP to the Liberal Democrats.

Around 700 delegates attended the event, taking part in up to 42 formal business meetings each as well as informal networking events. Photo: The PIE

The 700 delegates attending StudyWorld represented 61 countries

Brexit and the UK’s political future was a constant backdrop to the three-day event, but with the UK attracting students from far beyond the EU, the UK’s ELT industry was more broadly considering its future.

Lord Bilimoria addressed delegates with his upbeat appraisal of the likelihood for post-study work rights to be extended and reminding delegates to be “proud of what we have” in terms of the UK’s education reputation.

“We are growing the scope and ambition of StudyWorld”

And Yinbo Yu, former NUS international student officer, opened the welcome reception with a vivid depiction of his life-changing journey from China to the UK, “with the hopes and dreams of my family with me”, speaking about the opportunities the UK can offer.

The 700 delegates attending StudyWorld represented 61 countries, with education agencies well represented from the top five UK ELT markets of China, Italy, Russia, Spain and Turkey.

Participants discussed changes in the sector, with the adult individual market showing signs of decline while the junior market is proving buoyant, aided by the current low value of the pound.

Meanwhile, more operators explained that they are moving from straight English tuition into mainstream curricula, such as A-level provision and vocationally-oriented programs such as marketing and coding delivered in English.

Regarding the UK’s major market of China, a talk by Igor Skibickij of Bonard highlighted the increased potential of smaller cities in China as a source of students.

Many stakeholders echoed his findings that encourage a move away from the traditional stomping grounds of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen and the start of a look at cities such as Chengdu, Nanjing and Hangzhou.

Some participants told The PIE News that they have plans to pay visits to second-tier cities later this year to search for new collaboration opportunities.

Skibickij showed findings from Bonard on the tier-2 city agent market, explaining how agents are the predominate route for applying to institutions abroad in China – being the method of choice for over 60% of applicants. A fast-changing market, the data showed how almost 50% of agencies have been replaced by new ones over the past seven years.

The China-focus was further emphasised by the attendance of senior leaders – including CEOs, presidents and founders – from major Chinese education businesses as part of a trade mission organised by the Department of International Trade.

“We are growing the scope and ambition of StudyWorld, attracting a wider range of buyers and educators with interests in everything that UK education has to offer,” Tim Barker, StudyWorld commercial director, said.

“We have buyers with diverse interests and educators representing more of the sector, and that is something we will continue to develop.”

The keynote speech was given by author and international news editor Tim Marshall, whose speech provided some much-needed context to increasingly tense geopolitical tensions that serve as a backdrop to the industry.

“People say they don’t work – these walls – and that’s not true. They can and do work. It doesn’t make them good, but they can and do work,” he said in his speech, which touched upon the morphing of the global focus from European-first or American-first to a more multipolar approach.

“Globalisation is real and I don’t think it’s going to reverse, but it will morph and the barriers are going up.”

A seminar by Andy Buckland on engaging with the Middle East highlighted several key points to consider, offering a crash course in international use of social media and the frictions that can exist between students, host schools and families driven by a lack of cultural understanding.

Other sessions across the three-day event included ones on the future of the ELT industry in the UK by Patrick Pavlacic, guardianship by Lana Foster and student safety by Kevin O’Donnell.

  • A separate story on business relations between educators and agents in the adult sector will follow in due course

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