This week, John Barnett, Chair of English UK East talks about the regional language school association’s activities and plans, following the recent first year anniversary

Can you explain a little about English UK East and its membership?

During the last few years we were starting to feel a bit isolated in the East of England. We noticed that other English UK regional groups were developing well and we decided we should get our act together and put the East of England on the map. We soon realised that we had quite a lot to offer and last year 25 institutions signed up to become members of the latest English UK regional group. Not only was this an extremely encouraging uptake, representing the majority of English UK members in our region, it also demonstrated the great variety of providers that we have in this region. Our members include boarding schools, colleges, languages schools and universities, and all are very keen to show agents and students that East Anglia is a great place to study and learn English.

What has English UK East achieved in its first year?

It has been a very exciting year for English UK East and I am delighted with what we have achieved in our first year. After a successful launch in January 2013, we embarked on a number of promotional activities to raise the profile of the region and its members. We agreed on a two-phase development of a new website, which is now complete. Our attractive website www.englishukeast.com has a user-friendly course search facility, news items and a Facebook page, which is particularly vibrant thanks to the input of our members, who are all keen to put up postings on what they and the region can offer visiting students. Various agent visits were arranged during the year and these culminated with our first agent fam trip, which took place after StudyWorld last September and was a great success.

In general, how was 2013 for member schools?

We all seemed to have enjoyed a good summer, with some members reporting record bookings on a wide range of courses. The rest of the year was a bit patchy, with members reporting lower numbers from various markets as a result of the worldwide recession and visa concerns.

What does this region offer to a language student that is unique?

Students who decide to come to England to study our language are usually looking for two things: firstly, an authentic English-speaking environment; secondly, a stay that will include plenty of new experiences, entertainment and fun. Britain is a highly cosmopolitan society, home to a vibrant mixture of cultures and languages. But if you're coming specifically to learn English you'll probably want to immerse yourself in the indigenous 'English' culture itself. This is what you'll find in Eastern England. And because East Anglia is not so well-known as a traditional region of English language study, you won't find the streets of many of its towns packed with foreign students - especially during the summer. This of course makes it easier to enjoy authentic communication with native English inhabitants.

Are there any particular issues affecting schools in this region and the UK more generally? Is there anything that can be done to address these?

As many countries – hopefully! – move out of recession and start to see their economies growing again, English UK East members need to be in the best position to attract potential students to our area. We need to make sure that we are providing agents with full details of our courses and offers, in order for the agents to be able to advise their clients and show them the advantages of choosing the East of England as the ideal study destination. The need for clear and consistent visa policies and procedures remains. We do not want overseas visitors to shy away from the UK as a result of concerns over visas, and we will be working very closely with English UK to support any initiatives on this front.

What does English UK East have planned for the coming months?

We were amazed by the response we got from agents last autumn at an English UK fair in Asia, where we had the opportunity to present our regional group for the first time. ‘We never realised that there were so many different great towns and schools in your region,’ was a remark that our presenter heard repeatedly during the fair. So, with a view to addressing this matter, we are now preparing a flyer for agents, which will contain information about English UK East and its members. This will be sent out and given out to agents at the various fairs and missions that we will be attending during 2014. By the end of this year, we aim to have put the East of England well and truly on the map!

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