Opening the debate, MP for Eastbourne Caroline Ansell quoted membership association English UK, who anticipate that the huge loss of student volume and revenue in 2020 to date will mean around 30% of UK ELT centres will cease trading and “more than this will not survive the traditionally quiet winter season”.
“We and our members will fight on for the support we need”
ELT faced all the challenges of the hospitality sector with no domestic market to pivot to and little room to diversify, Ansell said, as online learning was “no substitute” for the experience of living and learning the language in its country of origin.
She outlined its many benefits and said that it was necessary to create wraparound support and be “match fit”, looking at anything which made the UK less competitive as “this has been a hugely important sector”.
“But it won’t be this summer,” Ansell added, pointing out that almost half of all trade is done between July and September “and that is now lost”.
Outlining some of the government schemes which the sector had been able to access, Ansell pointed out that just 17 applications for the business rates relief scheme had been granted by local authorities, despite all centres having applied.
Ansell described the “catastrophic” collapse of the junior market before going on to ask who in government would lead ELT’s rally.
She said the sector’s needs and interests were caught up in “a jigsaw” of different government departments and asked export minister Graham Stuart to encourage all local councils to include their local language schools in the business rates relief scheme.
During the debate, Sally Ann Hart MP said it was time to “roll out the red carpet [for ELT students] and perhaps consider having the terms of visas equal between universities, schools and colleges”.
Responding for the government, export minister Stuart praised the industry and said the sector was “front and centre” of the International Education Strategy.
Stuart said as joint chair of the government’s international education sector advisory group he had witnessed the “world-class excellence of UK English language teaching”.
ELT was central to the UK’s educational success, he said, and he thought it might contribute £1.6 billion rather than £1.4bn to UK GDP.
English UK research had shown 80% of students would return to the UK, which Stuart said was “a huge vote of confidence in our ELT sector and the country as a whole”.
He said the Department for International Trade had a pivotal role to help education exporters and that he would do his best to champion the sector, but that he could not take on the visa element or deal with relief for business rates as they are under the remit of the Home Office and Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
“Covid has had a terrible impact on our ELT providers… we are working to ensure this dynamic sector has the support it needs to thrive once this crisis has abated,” Stuart added.
Jodie Gray, interim chief executive of English UK, said she was delighted by the debate.
“It was brilliant to watch the government and a cross-party group of MPs recognise the value of our industry and the efforts made by English UK and our members to get through this crisis,” she said.
“It was also great to hear some of our biggest problems recognised: that as an industry we don’t fall under the remit of any one government department.
“We and our members will fight on for the support we need.”