This week, we interview Eddie Byers, Chief Executive of English UK about the association’s past and future activities and market trends.

The Conservative Party regained power in May’s general election. What impact do you think this will have on the UK’s ELT sector?

It’s a surprising election result with now a very clear government in place for the first time in a long time. Despite the problems that the sector experienced with the coalition [between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties] that was in place previously, there is undoubtedly some benefit in the simplicity of a one-party government and therefore we pay particular attention to what the Conservative manifesto holds.

The European Referendum [part of the manifesto] is a really substantial moment for the UK, and one that has potential to affect this industry if the UK were to leave the European Union with 50 per cent of UK ELT business coming from Europe. We are very conscious of that and we will be looking closely at that process and making sure that our members are well informed. It would be wrong for us to take a public position on this though – like with the Scottish referendum we need to respect these processes and accept that they are ultimately political as well.

Subsequent to this interview taking place, the government has made its first post-election policy announcement regarding the rights of non-EU students at FE colleges. English UK issued a statement in response to the changes.

Can you describe some of English UK’s activities in 2014/15?

We had 479 members in 2013, and that grew in 2014 to 480 members. But what we noted is that underneath that, there was quite a significant degree of churn – more than we have seen in previous years. More closures, some mergers taking place in Scotland between further education colleges and some members dropping out. And although the numbers are not that dramatic in the round, nonetheless they are a step up from what we have seen in previous years and therefore we are paying attention to that. I think critically, we are seeing quite a number of new members, and in some ways that’s surprising when you think of the difficult time that the industry is facing.

The large chains are still opening new centres, and then also new smaller centres doing quite specialised things are opening. We also saw a growth in our corporate membership. The association did relatively well in financial terms, with a surplus of UK£74,000 in 2014. That was quite difficult to achieve – we were having to work harder than ever before to achieve outcomes for the organisation. We have several things we need to do with that surplus, and in essence the student emergency support fund has been drawn upon. Overall, we are in a healthy position. 

Last year marked significant change within the organisation as well. For a start, I took over from Tony Millns at the end of May. But we also had a change of Chair, Vice Chair and a number of new board members. We also had a change of Chair on the finance panel, changes in our subsidiary boards and in our committees and so on.

Working with the British Council and our accreditation board, we also brought in the care of under-18s criteria. Despite discussion about whether this is an over burdensome regulation, I think we have got the balance right. Safeguarding our reputation for safety of younger learners is something that we will continue to contribute to on a quality front. Another thing we have done is the Action Research Award jointly with Cambridge English Language Assessment, and that has allowed six teachers from schools to pursue projects through their classes. 

In 2014, we hosted 176 agents from 47 countries at our regional fairs. We also used the fairs for a springboard of other activities in the region. For example, in Colombia we had a week-long programme of initiatives. We started with agent seminars in Bogota and Medellin, went on to our regional fair and ended with our participation in BMI’s student-facing fair in Bogota. In addition to that, we held an agent briefing seminar in Tokyo, organised in partnership with the British Council in Japan, and that dovetailed with our fair in Kyoto. StudyWorld welcomed 356 agents from 62 countries and 220 educators from 16 countries. In 2014, our team delivered three inward missions. The Partner Agency Scheme increased participation by 20 per cent to 240 agents by the end of 2014. Our sixth annual China Roadshow attracted a record number of 400 agents. The team attended many profile-raising events in Brazil, Kazakhstan, Qatar, Myanmar, Russia, Spain, Taiwan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

What do you have planned for English UK over the next 12 months?

We recognise the need for change in our public affairs work, and we have decided in consultation with input from our board and our new public affairs advisory group to spend additional money on independently verified economy impact research. That was not in our original plan, but it will be crucial for the organisation and the reputation of the industry to address challenges we face. We want to be able to offer consultancies for ISI inspections and engage with them regularly through quarterly meetings. We will also introduce a safeguarding manual because a lot of people that will be online and indexed and will provide a guide to best practice in safeguarding student welfare. We will continue to focus on the coverage of ELT in the international trade press, as well as regional coverage.

What does English UK predict in terms of enrolment trends for member schools over the next 12 months?

I anticipate that the next 12 months will have a similar pattern to the last 12 months, and we have seen that was a difficult period for the industry here in the UK. That’s what our members tell us, and that is what we are working to try and change for the longer term. In terms of nationalities, while there are always markets that are waning, ultimately the mix that has been there for generations will still be there.

An abridged version of this interview appears in the August issue of StudyTravel Magazine.  

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