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UK: ELT centres lose estimated £590m revenue in 2020

ELT centres in the UK had a total revenue loss of £590m in 2020, with 91% of employees affected and over half losing their jobs, according to new research carried out for English UK

The UK's ELT sector lost an estimated £590m in 2020. Photo: Pexels

"By the end of 2020 54% of staff had been released"

The second edition of the the English UK Covid-19 impact report, was prepared by Bonard, and explores how the pandemic has affected 350 accredited centres represented by the association. 

“Most of these businesses are on their knees, waiting for a change in travel restrictions”

It found that during 2020, student numbers fell by 79% and student weeks fell by 65% compared with 2019. These figures are worse, and the member outlook for recovery in 2021 less positive, than the previous survey in summer 2020. 

“This latest report lays bare the devastation wrought by Covid-19 on a thriving industry full of otherwise viable businesses, and to staff who have been so badly affected,” said Jodie Gray, English UK’s chief executive.

“Most of these businesses are on their knees, waiting for a change in travel restrictions which would allow students to return in significant numbers.” 

The results of the report are based on an online survey distributed among English UK member centres. A total of 183 centres provided their data. Participating centres represented 50% of all students and 52% of all student weeks spent at English UK member centres in 2019. 

Based on this market share, further assumptions and generalisations were made to extrapolate the findings over the entire English UK member base. Data collection took place in February 2021.

The report explored the pandemic’s impact on student mobility – 2019 saw a 1% increase in the number of language students travelling to the UK to learn English – the third consecutive increase since 2017. 

However, in 2020, the 183 participating member centres catered to 54,196 students, representing a 79% decrease in student numbers compared to 2019.

Participating members estimated that the overall drop in student numbers translated into a direct revenue loss of £307m. 

“Taking into account that responding centres represented 52% of all student weeks generated in 2019, it can be estimated that the overall loss in gross revenue (as a direct result of the impact of Covid-19) for all English UK members exceeded £590m in 2020,” the report said. 

The report noted that the jobs market has been heavily affected by the pandemic. Surveyed centres cumulatively reported 8,232 employees and so overall it is estimated that the UK ELT sector directly supports more than 12,000 jobs.

Of these 91% were impacted by the pandemic. By the end of 2020 54% of staff had been released and an additional 18% are currently benefiting from the furlough scheme, according to the report. 

Bonard asked respondents to share their viewpoints on possible recovery scenarios, to “aggregate individual knowledge into an informed overall assessment of the future outlook”. 

Member centres were less optimistic about 2021 than in the previous survey undertaken in July 2020, when 31% of respondents anticipated a 40% recovery and 43% expected a 60% recovery of their pre Covid-19 business volume. Now, 36% of respondents do not expect recovery to exceed 20% in 2021. 

Earlier this month the UK’s chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that the government would be extending its furlough scheme. English UK welcomed the government’s decision to extend its furlough scheme to the end of September – but argued more needed to be done to help support jobs in the country’s ELT sector. 

In a statement announcing the second edition of the Covid-19 impact report, Gray said that the government’s response to the issues faced by the UK’s ELT had not been adequate. 

“We and our members were bitterly disappointed by the failure of the Budget to officially extend the business rates holiday to ELT centres, and by the possible restriction of grants to businesses which were officially ordered to close. We are redoubling our political lobbying and urging our members to do the same,” she said.  

“We and our members were bitterly disappointed by the failure of the Budget to officially extend the business rates holiday to ELT centres”

English UK has released a position paper calling on the government to help kickstart UK ELT. 

In the paper the association said that 13% of their member centres have disappeared as a result of closures or mergers. English UK fears that up to 30% could go under before recovery comes, without targeted government support. 

“It is a testament to the resilience of the sector that more centres have not closed,” English UK said. 

The position paper calls on the government for targeted business support, including an extended furlough scheme for staff until March 2022 and a business rates holiday and associated grants to ELT. 

English UK is lobbying the government to provide a supportive immigration system – requesting that they keep ID-card travel for under-18 EU/EEA/ Swiss Group travel groups, continue to recognise the list of travellers scheme, and enable students already studying in the UK to apply for a new visa for further study without leaving the country. 

“It is a testament to the resilience of the sector that more centres have not closed”

The association has also requested that the government require all English language providers to be accredited and Accreditation UK should have educational oversight so that it is valid for all visa routes

The government ought to restore work rights of up to 20 hours a week for adult students on ELT courses, and support ELT centres to recruit the qualified staff they need, it added.

It also urged the government to provide positive marketing on a “national scale”, by setting a national growth target for ELT students in the UK, providing support for a targeted campaign to communicate the UK ELT offer and making funding available. 

English UK is also calling on the government to increase financial support for education exporters and offer innovation and enterprise grants to UK ELT.

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One Response to UK: ELT centres lose estimated £590m revenue in 2020

  1. Where is the British Council in all this? Having been bailed out themselves early in the pandemic, surely they understand how critical it is for the ELT sector to receive further help from the government. They must be encouraged to put pressure on the government to help our industry at this critical time.

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