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“The future is very uncertain” – ELT stakeholders concerned

At least 15 ELT centres in the UK have gone into administration as a direct result of Covid-19, and while school closures appear to be lower in some other key destinations, stakeholders have warned that more businesses could shut for good. 

As many as 15 ELT centres have closed in the UK according to English UK. Photo: Pexels

"Business does not appear to be improving at any time soon”

The news comes after a recent report estimated that the economic loss for all English UK members would exceed £510 million for the first three quarters of 2020.

“We will inevitably see members that were previously thriving businesses go under”

“The future is very uncertain. We fear that we will see many more UK ELT centres close their doors permanently due to Covid-19,” said the interim chief executive of English UK, Jodie Gray.

“To some extent, the government’s job retention scheme has masked the impact of the pandemic on the sector.”

Gray explained that the UK’s ELT sector currently faces a number of challenges including the withdrawal of the government’s support scheme, and students, who were initially willing to postpone their courses, but are now nervous to travel to the UK and likely to request refunds. 

“We will inevitably see members that were previously thriving businesses go under.

“This is heart-breaking,” Gray added.

The latest English UK report published in July showed that student numbers were down by 82%.

The survey data was gathered from 145 participating centres, who reported a £257m total loss. Extrapolating that figure to the entire membership equates to £510m for the first three quarters of 2020.

English UK has also released a position paper that outlines exactly what support it believes is necessary to prevent further closures. 

Advice to the government includes extending the business rates holiday and associated grants, already offered to the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors, to include the ELT sector specifically. 

The group is advocating for extended visa validity periods for those unable to travel during the pandemic and if up-to-date information is required for such students, the original fee to cover the application.

Suggestions also include marketing efforts to drive and measure success by the inclusion of a growth target for UK ELT in the International Education Strategy.

 “There is absolutely something that can be done about this,” said Gray. 

“While not every ELT business can be saved, we can ensure that as many survive as possible with the help of the UK government in three areas.

“[These are] short and medium-term business support, a sympathetic immigration system and promotion of UK ELT on a national scale.”

However, the UK is not the only country whose ELT sector has been shaken by Covid-19. Marketing English in Ireland has warned that 120,000 fewer students could come to the country due to pandemic. 

David Russell, chairman of language school association the Progressive College Network, explained that so far there have been low numbers of closures.

But he said that the actual number of closures would be revealed when schools are allowed to reopen.

“If a school hasn’t been providing online classes for its students that should be a major red flag,” he noted.

“To me, that would call into question the validity of the business, and I would be afraid that schools that are doing things like that may not reopen.”

In Germany, Julia Richter, managing director of association FDSV, told The PIE that three language schools members have closed, while In Malta, James Perry, CEO of FELTOM, said that one ELT business had gone under.

“If a school hasn’t been providing online classes for its students that should be a major red flag”

But these low numbers may change dependent on government support measures, Perry explained.

“From a school’s perspective until now we only saw two schools close down, the others are hanging in there, I think the reason being is the government is giving a wage supplement until September in order to assist the schools,” he said.

“However after September we need to see if the government extends this supplement, or if we see schools closing down because the business does not appear to be improving at any time soon,” he added.

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5 Responses to “The future is very uncertain” – ELT stakeholders concerned

  1. There are some excellent people at English UK, but to me they have seemed rather worryingly relaxed and distracted throughout this situation.

    Quite a lot of fiddling while Rome burns, such as launching an anti-racism campaign in what has to be, almost by definition, the least racist profession/business going.

    Also, endless Zoom videos consisting largely of asking people how they have been feeling during lockdown.

    Not to mention commissioning surveys (not free, presumably?) to find out how bad things are. Take it from me, they are BAD, VERY BAD! No charge for that.

    The lobbying plan they have come up would be fine if we had the luxury of time. We don’t.

    We need hard cash to survive.

    If the government can hand out cash to the British Council (which is basically a private language school chain that doesn’t pay tax) we would be happy to join in.

    See my LinkedIn article.

    We are not members of English UK.

  2. English UK are “Elephant in the room”, they have done a lot of webinars during pandemic but have not been able to achieve anything tangible for their members :(.

  3. Chris – I believe the bailout for the British Council is a £60 million loan – I don’t think schools mainly want to borrow more. A cash grant bailout for the sector must be deemed highly unlikely, and would surely be very difficult to administer fairly. Good luck mate.

  4. Chris
    My view is that EUK actually does a great job for the industry but is not very good at promoting itself And what it has achieved

    I also think We should be doing
    everything we can to persuade and help the government to get a grip on handling Covid so that overseas students have the confidence to come to the UK.

    Unless the market sees we are in control,
    We will not survive

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