No great recovery for English UK in 2013

19 May, 2014

English UK member schools had a mixed year in 2013, with student numbers up but average stays declining, according to association survey data unveiled by Chief Executive, Tony Millns, at the annual English UK AGM.

English UK Chief Executive, Tony Millns, addresses the AGM

In his final AGM presentation as Chief Executive, Millns said on the face of it 2013 looked like a successful year. However, a like-for-like comparison of private sector centres operating in 2012 and 2013 revealed a 17 per cent increase in student numbers, but only a one per cent increase in student weeks. Across all 390 private sector members there was a 1.6 per cent decline in student weeks per centre to 5,120; the 86 state sector members fared better with a 6.2 per cent increase in student week per centre.

“So more students in total, but all staying for a shorter period of time,” Millns said in assessment of 2013 trends, attributing this to greater cost and time pressures students are facing. He added that the junior market accounted for 23 per cent of student weeks in 2013, the highest total for many years.

In terms of source markets, there were significant variations in trends among the top five: Italy and Spain remained the top two providers of students, despite student week falls of six and 16 per cent respectively; the ‘rest of the Middle East’ increased 24 per cent to rise to third; Russia, in fourth place, grew by 14 per cent; Saudi Arabia completed the top five.

Millns estimated that if English UK represents around 80 per cent of the sector, there were around 730,000 incoming students in 2013. Study Travel Magazine’s most recent global market report on the ELT industry calculated 700,932 students coming to the UK in 2012.

Looking back at the previous ten years of English UK, Millns welcomed the growth of membership from 200 centres for Arels to 478 current members, and said the association reached “critical mass” to be taken seriously by government.

He said there had been considerable success in reducing the size of the non-accredited sector, down from 540 to around 150 schools. “We are pressing for accreditation as a license to operate, based on the principle of protecting students and the UK’s reputation for quality, which remains our largest selling point internationally,” he added.

Meanwhile, incoming Chief Executive elect, Eddie Byers, promised a refocus on growth and an exploration of increasing direct bookings when he outlined his initial thoughts on the association and sector.

“The global market is expanding rapidly and there is every sign it will continue to grow, “said Byers. “We are not benefitting as we could be and should be.”

Looking at recruitment streams, Byers said, “We all know how important agents are, I’m sure that is not going to change. But we can do more to increase direct channels.” He added, “A lot of effort and money is directed towards agents. If we can diversify, it will be good for members.”

Elsewhere at the conference, a range of presentations were delivered on topics including the Italian PON scheme, language school business models and a review of accreditation in the UK over the last ten years.

In a panel session on influencing politics in the run-up to the 2015 general election in the UK, Robert Syms MP said immigration policy change was unlikely before the election, but urged English UK members to pressure local candidates and provide accurate data on the value of the sector. Ivor Caplin, a former Labour MP and Head of Public Affairs for English UK, warned, “The value of the English language teaching industry is virtually unknown to a lot of MPs.”

Jeremy Oppenheim from the Home Office also held a heated session on the current state of the visa system, with many schools reporting long delays in visa issuance for Russian students which has caused “irreparable damage”, according to one delegate. Teleperformance, the company recently contracted to process visa applications, was criticised for handling applications ineffectively, prompting Oppenheim to offer to chair a meeting to address why Russian business has “fallen off a cliff” in the words of Timothy Blake from London School of English.

In the face of criticism, Oppenheim said that sponsored visa applications are up seven per cent since last year and that, “the Home Office wants to control immigration while facilitating business growth”. Millns also suggested that further research into work rights for ELT students needs to be done to prove that they are unlikely to abuse the system while in the UK.

Byers is due to officially take Millns’ place as Chief Executive next month.

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