The UK’s ELT sector suffered a 79 per cent decrease in students in 2020 and a loss of revenue of UK£590 million, according to new figures released by association English UK, which is ramping up its campaign for government support in light of the findings.

Data gathered from 183 English UK  member centres – more than half of the association’s current membership – by research partner Bonard during February shows that student numbers among participating schools decreased by 79 per cent in 2020, compared with the previous year, to 54,196. Student weeks, meanwhile, declined by 65 per cent to 333,959.

The impact was more apparent at private language school members of English UK in the survey, where student numbers decreased by 80 per cent. Public sector members (English language centres at universities and further education colleges) reported a 46 per cent drop.

The revenue loss as a result of Covid-19 for the reporting centres (representing 52 per cent of English UK membership) amounted to UK£307 million, which English UK extrapolated as a direct economic impact across all members as UK£590 million.

Covid-19 has heavily impacted on employment in the UK ELT sector, with 91 per cent of employees (full-time, part-time and seasonal) affected by the pandemic, the authors found.

Looking at full-time workers, 35 per cent were placed on the UK government’s furlough support scheme, 31 per cent were released, and 24 per cent had hours and/or salary reduced, with only 10 per cent unaffected.

English UK highlighted that the latest figures and projections are worse than those in the previous member survey on Covid impact, conducted last summer.

Jodie Gray , English UK’s Chief Executive, said, “This latest report lays bare the devastation wrought by Covid-19 on a thriving industry full of otherwise viable businesses, and to staff who have been so badly affected. Most of these businesses are on their knees, waiting for a change in travel restrictions which would allow students to return in significant numbers.”

Most respondents to the survey anticipated only a limited recovery in 2021, and less than 10 per cent expect a full return to pre-Covid business levels in 2022.

In a position paper released alongside the impact research, English UK urged clarity on travel rules that will help students, agents and schools plan for months ahead.

“We call on the government to put in place a framework that builds on the travel corridors policy to create a risk-based, tiered structure of location-specific travel restrictions, with pre-departure and post-arrival tests likely for medium-risk countries. Decisions on adding or removing countries and regions to travel corridors must be based on clear and transparent data,” the association said.

In the paper, English UK said that government support for the sector has been inadequate, and called for action in three areas: targeted business support; tailored visas and immigration support with clarity on inbound travel; and marketing of UK ELT.

In terms of targeted support, English UK lobbied for furlough schemes for the sector to be extended into 2022 in light of the expected long recovery period, and for the UK ELT sector to be specifically included in business rate holiday and grant schemes for the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors – a measure the association said would cost no more than UK£15 million.

Currently support for ELT centres is at the discretion of local authorities, leading to varied levels of support in different areas, and for several months English UK has been calling for the government to clearly stipulate that ELT centres should be included.

Jodie commented, “We and our members were bitterly disappointed by the failure of the Budget to officially extend the business rates holiday to ELT centres, and by the possible restriction of grants to businesses which were officially ordered to close. We are redoubling our political lobbying and urging our members to do the same.”

English UK said that 13 per cent of member centres have already disappeared as a result of closures or mergers, and that it feared 30 per cent could go under without targeted support.

On immigration settings, the association called for an extension to ID card travel for under-18 students from the EU – something that is scheduled to end in October.

They also asked for students studying in the UK on any visa to be able to apply for a new visa for further study without leaving the country. Under immigration rules introduced last year, students on a student visa at a registered student sponsor can switch to a further study level without leaving, but not those on a visitor visa or extended student visitor visa.

English UK also lobbied for a resumption of part-time work rights for ELT students; for Accreditation UK to be recognised across all visa routes; and for a new youth mobility scheme to help with the recruitment of seasonal staff.

For marketing, the association requested a national growth target for ELT students within the government’s International Education Strategy, a targeted campaign to communicate the UK’s ELT offer, increased financial support for exporters, and innovation grants for the sector.

Click here to request the full report.

The full article was originally published on Study Travel Network (March 2021) at the following link.

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