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UK MPs heed need for recognition of UK’s ELT sector

Sarah Cooper, English UK’s chief executive, is feeling bullish about a wind of change in parliament that might bolster the English language teaching sector after speaking at a fringe meeting and attending both Conservative and Labour party annual conferences this month.

Sarah Cooper, Chief Executive of English UK, sitting alongside former Universities Minister, Lord Willetts. Photo: Policy Exchange

"I felt there was a very receptive mood to the message which we were trying to get across"

“I felt there was a very receptive mood to the message which we were trying to get across,” Cooper told The PIE News.

“I came away thinking, yes, [MPs] understand the potential of this industry and [that] we need to protect it.”

She added, “The best comment I had there was from Lucy Powell MP [Labour], who is on the education select committee and said, ‘The world’s language is more deserving of policy attention’.”

Cooper was invited to speak at a party fringe event organised for both conferences by centre-right think-tank Policy Exchange, called The Power of English: Exporting the English Language and Strengthening Britain’s Global Position.

Other panel members at the event included Dr Christopher McCormick, the executive vice president for academic affairs at EF Education First, David Willetts of the Resolution Foundation, LBC radio host Iain Dale and John Blake of Policy Exchange.

In her overview of the industry, Cooper said that half of the 500,000 people who came to the UK last year to study English were under 18, and on very short courses, with a proportion perhaps considering returning to the UK for university.

She also highlighted concerns over a more restrictive visa system for young Europeans post-Brexit, talked of the soft power benefits English brings to the UK, and pointed out that ELT market share is being lost to competitor nations.

The English UK CEO also attended other fringe and main conference sessions, and in Manchester got the chance to quiz immigration minister Brandon Lewis about future entry requirements for EU students to the UK post-Brexit.

While he avoided that question, he assured her there were no plans to change the visa requirements for short-term students, assured an English UK spokesperson.

Asked about Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s recent request to the Migration Advisory Committee to assess the impact of international students in the UK, Cooper said this was “a great opportunity, because we can then evidence the impact not just economically but social impact of industry, so I’m looking forward to contributing to that”.

She added, “The very fact that it’s been commissioned, we should take as a positive sign”.

Cooper explained, “With a white paper on immigration expected fairly soon and a bill early in new year,  – by which time all the evidence will have been submitted –  hopefully there will be some correlation.”


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