An eroding market for English UK schools

14 May, 2015

The net migration policy, continuous change to student visa regulations and exam fraud all contributed to a marginal decline in student numbers and weeks for English UK members in 2014, according to Chief Executive, Eddie Byers.

Eddie Byers addresses the English UK AGM delegation

Addressing the delegation at the Annual Conference & AGM held in Manchester, UK, this week, Byers said, “We see a market that is not moving forward – it is eroding.”

The data showed a drop in total student numbers of 0.83 per cent to 580,618, while student weeks fell by 2.02 per cent, compared with 2013 figures, to 2,348,116. However, a like-for-like comparison of private sector member data in 2013 and 2014 showed a decline in student numbers of 3.3 per cent and a rise in student weeks of 0.5 per cent.

Further analysis of the figures also showed that adult, General English has been squeezed, while the popularity of junior programmes grew, accounting for around a quarter of business for members. “This is a trend that has been happening for some time – there are no signs of it stopping,” added Byers.

In terms of source markets, Byers reported that Italy was more important than ever as the largest source country, partly owing to the PON scholarship programme, while numbers from Saudi Arabia and Venezuela also increased. And there were notable declines, including from: Spain, owing to the economy; Russia, due to the political crisis; and also from Brazil, Turkey and Japan.

Byers continued that changes in individual markets are not new problems. “But when you put market-based issues on top of other issues that members are facing on the political front, this starts to make for quite a difficult operating environment,” he said. Citing changes to Secured English Language Testing (SELT), he added, "We faced an onslaught of problems in 2014 – the level of problems that we have seen has been really substantial.”

Byers conceded that problems are unlikely to subside following the re-election of the Conservative Party in last week’s general election, and with this in mind English UK announced its strategy for 2015-to-2017. This will include an independently verified analysis of the value of the UK’s ELT sector, led by Capital Economics, “to better inform government policy to support our industry”, said Annie Wright, Deputy Chief Executive. The analysis is due to be released in September this year.

The Public Affairs Advisory Group also rallied members to get involved on a grassroots level by meeting with local MPs and informing local newspapers of student success stories. “Change is going to happen because each and every one of you sits and thinks about what you can do at a local level to make others sit up and pay attention,” said Val Hennessy, Director of International House Bristol. “The Home Office door is bricked up and they don’t want to pay attention, so we have to go in through the back.”

Other sessions at the conference included one titled New Oriental and Why it Matters to UK Language Schools. Ding Shan, Deputy General Manager of Walkite International Academy – a new UK-based development for New Oriental – told delegates that the agency arm of the company has become the largest operator in China after launching short-term study travel programmes in 2005. He gave schools advice, such as that hot lunches and lots of activities are very important to Chinese students, although some language school participants said it was not always possible to cater to the high demands.

English UK comprises 480 private and state ELT schools across the country.

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