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UK buoyed by China short courses restart

Stakeholders in the UK’s educational travel and ELT sectors have predicted they will see a boost in the next year amid China restarting short-term tours to over 130 countries.

China has lifted its ban on short-term outbound tours for the UK, US and other countries. Photo: Pexels

The restart follows the lifting of bans on tours to various other nations in March and January

It was announced in August that China’s long-term ban on outbound tours, which included English language short-term courses, would be coming to an end for destinations including the UK, US, Japan, Australia, South Korea and India, as well as most countries in Europe.

This follows the lifting of bans on tours to Nepal, France, Portugal and Brazil in March, and Thailand, Russia, Cuba and Argentina in January.

The move has been praised by the British Council, as well as relevant government departments. A statement made by the British Council said it expects it to have a “positive impact”.

“The recent reinstatement of group travel from China will significantly contribute to the recovery of the UK ELT sector, and many English language schools can anticipate receiving their first groups of Chinese students in the summer of 2024,” the British Council’s statement read.

“I believe this will be an immediate boost for the sector in 2024,” Mark Henebury, English language & teacher training specialist at the Department for Business and Trade, agreed, speaking with The PIE.

“English UK and DBT are working together with the British Council and board on the StudyWorld China Roadshow 2023 from November 26 to December 1, taking out around 25 UK providers,” he explained.

“This is the right time for us to be there, promoting the UK ELT sector in country at the beginning of the recruitment cycle,” Henebury added.

China has been a significant booster for the ELT sector in the UK historically, but Covid saw a complete decimation of numbers from the country due to travel restrictions. The UK foreign secretary has visited China this week, the first trip by a minister for five years.

General English language courses were beginning to see a slight resurgence for China after the easing of travel restrictions earlier this year, but short-term groups going to the UK were still out of the question at that time.

Executive director of BETA Emma English, told The PIE immediate miracles are not expected, citing visa applications and passport renewals. But a “strong rebound”, she agreed with Henebury, is predicted.

“China is one of the UK’s most valuable markets,” she noted.

“This is the right time for us to be there, promoting the UK ELT sector”

“From a tourism-linked perspective, VisitBritain forecasts a return to pre-Covid levels by 2026.

“[But] the UK must work hard to make sure that we remain attractive, welcoming and of course, competitive,” she insisted.

English also pointed out that the visitor visa costs would be increasing by 15%, a figure that won’t sit well in terms of the UK’s attractiveness.

Immigration health surcharges are also going up, which could further put off prospective international students.

BETA is also working with DBT to bring a delegation of Chinese buyers to its Youth and Student Travel Summit in October, hoping to supercharge the Chinese market.

“We need greater support from the UK government to raise the potential of this market,” she also added.

Henebury wanted to make clear that the challenges facing the sector in general are mainly around staffing and accommodation.

“These are not quick fixes, but I know that English UK and providers are working hard on this and DBT will support wherever we can,” he added.

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