ELT competitors in the UK are collaborating to find available accommodation for visiting students as demand outstrips supply in key language learning cities.
“There is a problem with the lack of supply of accommodation and host families,” Sam Bufton from Bell English told The PIE. English language providers are going to need to reconsider their accommodation processes, he suggested.
“We’re going to have to recruit [hosts], we’re going to have to prepay for more accommodation up front earlier and probably take it for longer term,” he said.
“Whereas before the accommodation providers would allow language schools to take it on an adhoc basis now, they’ve got demand from universities to take all nine months, all upfront. If we want access to those rooms, those terms are now becoming the same.”
That would mean more risk for language schools, he continued, as ELT has not traditionally paid for accommodation from September round to August upfront.
“It’s not what language schools do, so it’s a risk. It’s the worst of both worlds, really. You can’t get the volume in unless you take the risk in accommodation. If you don’t take the risk in the accommodation, you can’t fulfil the demand,” he said.
Andrew Ballam-Davies from Hosts International told The PIE that during the pandemic hosts converted spare rooms to offices. The move to hybrid working means some have not returned to offer language students housing.
“There was also some fear from hosts about having strangers in the house [during the pandemic],” he said – an issue that is beginning to change.
“You can’t get the volume in unless you take the risk in accommodation”
Homeowners are recognising, especially during the cost of living crisis, the “significant” financial gain of hosting international students, he said.
Others The PIE spoke to suggested that the perception of hosting accommodation needs to be reconsidered by the wider sector.
“[Hosts] shouldn’t be viewed as the ‘cheaper option’,” one stakeholder said.
It is not only the UK language sector that is suffering from accommodation shortages. The PIE reported on homestay shortages in Canada hitting enrolments in early 2022.
Ireland is also in the midst of an accommodation crisis.
“There aren’t enough accommodation for the number of people coming into Ireland,” Justin Quinn from CES told The PIE during StudyWorld in London. “It’ll level out over the next couple of years.
“We’re all adapting to what we have to do. We’re taking more residential beds and we’re investing more in accommodation, we’re investing more in student residences. It’s an expensive investment, a long-term investment, but we’re doing it and we hopefully it’ll pay off over the next few years.”