Reviews and forecasts at English UK AGM

May 21, 2013

English UK members suffered a decline caused by the London Olympics, but overall 2012 was a good year for the language school association, said Chief Executive Tony Millns at an annual conference that also featured projections for the ELT market and insights on government strategy.

photo: Delegates gathered at Hotel Russell, London, for the English UK Annual Conference

“It was a pretty good year overall,”said Millns during his opening address at the conference, held at the Hotel Russell, London. He reflected that membership increased from 455 to 464 during 2012, new sub-groups were formed in London and the East of England, and the Partner Agency scheme grew by 30 per cent.

Private language school members suffered a 7.8 per cent decline in students, according to English UK' s provisional data. “The decrease is almost entirely accounted for by the 2012 Olympics” said Millns. However, the 85 state sector members recorded collective growth of two per cent.

The average number of student weeks per junior student declined to a more “normal” 2.9 weeks, down from four weeks in 2011, while the adult average remained steady at 5.6. Overall, Italy was the top market in 2012, followed by Spain, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Korea, and the top three source countries accounted for 28 per cent of the total, which made the UK less dependent on core markets than some of its competitors, said Millns.

On immigration concerns, Millns said there was “a general acceptance within the Home Office that there isn' t significant abuse of the ESVV [extended student visitor visa] or SVV [student visitor visa] routes,” adding that the former would need to be written into immigration rules soon.

In a separate speech on trends and prospects for 2013/14, Millns said early data indicated strong growth in general tourism visits and spend, although possible VAT payments on agency commissions and the roll-out of credibility interviews for Tier 4 student visa applicants were potential negatives for the sector.

Tom Strachan and Fran Sprawls from the government's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills outlined how education exports have been earmarked as a key industrial strategy sector and plans to develop a coherent UK education brand to market overseas. Strachan presented research on the global value of ELT based on Study Travel Magazine's annual Global Market reports.

Elsewhere, Samuel Vetrak of StudentMarketing presented English UK-commissioned research on projections of ELT trends up to 2020. He said increasing the average length of stay by one week would deliver the growth required to maintain the UK's market share. If current trends continued, junior students would represent 40 per cent of the UK market within seven years.

Vetrak also predicted that there would be consolidation of schools in mainstream city destinations and that there would be at least 200 acquisitions in the industry by 2020.

Other presentation topics at the two-day conference included Brazilian outbound trends, assuring safe homestays, school marketing and perspectives on immigration, while a parliamentary reception took place at the end of day one. The latest market reports on Russia and Japan were also unveiled at the end of the event.

English UK Chair, Sue Edwards, praised the diversity of the conference, and said, “What struck me on the first day is that we are learning from what we already know, thinking about current challenges but looking to the future.”

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