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English UK launches ELT manifesto after a successful year

As the UK's ELT sector celebrates the best year since the pandemic, particularly the private sector, government lobbying must continue for sake of the sector, and wider UK.
May 17 2024
3 Min Read

English UK has launched its ELT manifesto for the incoming next government, which the association says will enable the industry to “do more for the UK”, including to work effectively as a gateway for NHS and care staff, support regional economies, build global relationships and contribute to the economy as an export industry.

The membership body for English language schools is feeling bullish since new published student booking data reveals the best year in 2023 for member-wide business since the pandemic.

Student numbers rose to 76% of 2019 levels while student weeks rose to 71% for English UK members, while private members fared best in terms of member type.

The campaigning manifesto for ELT, launched at the Houses of Parliament, contains six recommendations for the incoming government and was officially announced in the company of MPs and key stakeholders.

The six recommendations are:

  • Expand career-enhancing travel opportunities for young people by expanding the Youth Mobility Scheme
  • Legalise short work placements on all ELT courses
  • Extend ID card travel for groups of under-18s from the EU
  • Recognise UK ELT’s accreditation scheme for immigration purposes
  • Increase government marketing support for UK ELT
  • Increase rent-a-room relief to help address capacity challenges

“We believe all of our six recommendations could be adopted by any political party without major cost or compromise, and we will use these to campaign into the general election and beyond,” said Jodie Gray, chief executive of English UK.

“We also hope our members will use the manifesto as a discussion point with their local election candidates.”

The sector has made significant headway in recent years, with campaigning leading to successes such as the government reinstating inbound ID-card travel for French school groups to the UK and the expansion of the Youth Mobility Scheme.

“We are delighted with our recent campaigning successes but there is much more to do,” said Gray.

One MP who turned up to show support for the sector was Lord Offord of Garvel, minister for exports.

“You’re not only teaching young people, you’re offering classes in English for specific purposes of courses that are sector specific, job specific, as well as those tailored for overseas teachers and students,” Offord addressed stakeholders at the manifesto launch.

He pointed to data from VisitBritain that showed that pre-pandemic, English language students spent twice as much money in the UK than the average visitor.

“We want the sector to bounce back and make sure that even more than 1.5 million students who are studying English abroad every year, do so in the UK.”

“It’s great to have better news in this year’s student statistics. The story of 2023 is one of promising but steady recovery,” said Gray.

“Global ELT is a maturing industry, with student numbers static or falling. It’s a zero-sum game. Destinations compete for a stable or shrinking pool of students. One destination’s gain is another’s loss.”

One destination’s gain is another’s loss

Italy has returned as the top sending market for private sector members and 60% of all students in 2023 were young learners which compares to 49% in 2022.

All growth was in the private sector, the association announced, with colleges and universities experiencing a decline in both student numbers and volume.

English UK’s state sector members reached just 27% of pre-pandemic student weeks in 2023, compared with 79% for private sector member centres. Some of this decline is due to structural changes in the state sector.

The association said it is “working hard to support state sector members to maximise their potential for growth.

Gray highlighted areas of potential growth for the UK, such as the Brazil market, which is the top global source market but the UK only has a market share of 7%.

The UK has a 2% market share in Colombia, 11% in China, and 6% in Thailand – each offering potential growth for the UK.

“The government can make a huge difference to our success, as recent clampdowns in competitor markets have demonstrated,” Gray continued.

“Right now, the UK’s approach is more welcoming than that in some of our competitor destinations. Canada and Australia are currently grappling with high visa refusal rates and caps on international student numbers.

Gray hopes the statistics help English UK members take individual marketing decisions, but also a wider objective is to demonstrate how and why targeted government supported is needed.

Overall, English UK’s 320 member centres taught 360,517 English language students in 2023.

Of these, 343,324 studied full-time courses, and 17,193 students studied part-time.

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