The final sessions of the afternoon looked to the future, with a panel discussion about politics and the sector, and the first major speech from incoming chief executive Eddie Byers.
The panel session, chaired by lobbyist Nick Laitner, featured former Labour minister Ivor Caplin, inaugural chair of All Party Parliamentary Group for ELT and Robert Syms, Conservative MP for Poole.
Nick began by telling us that his company is advising of eight possible current outcomes from the 2015 General Election, and said it was a key time to try to influence politicians.
Ivor began by reminding the room of the case of BP and the Gulf oil disaster: the company had decided not to work on creating political friends in Washington, ultimately costing the company millions and millions of dollars. At a time like this, he said, it was important to have an active APPG for the industry and he urged members to lobby their MPs so that post election they might be able to argue the case for EL teaching.
Robert Syms agreed it was important for language centres to lobby their MPs, so that they would know about the adverse effects of policies, and the best way was to do this in the constituency office, with prepared figures and facts. It was also a good idea to try to get them into your school, and have a photo opportunity for the local paper, he said.
Immigration policy was going to be critical on the doorstep, said Ivor Caplin, while Mr Syms argued that it was crucial for the sector to get its message over about students and their value to the economy during the next year. "If you lot were all in one area like a car plant you would have more clout... you lot have got to act collectively rather than individuals, you can punch above your weight if you do that," he said.
Public policy was one of the things incoming chief executive wanted to talk about, in the final session of the day. "I talked to the board at my interview about helping English UK being the best trade association in the world, and here today there is a lot to be proud of. I just hope the next ten years will be a similar period and we will see progression and improvements and be able to say good work was done there."
He said that the sector was not yet turning the corner. While the global market was getting bigger every year, the UK was not yet benefiting as it should and could. "The challenge for us is how to get back on the growth train," he said, adding: "The challenge for me is how to create the environment where English UK can do more to help you grow." Growth would be good for the country as well as the sector, making it more compelling for stakeholders and policy formers.
He outlined four major themes he wanted to prioritise, but stressed that he wanted to continue having conversations about all this, creating a sense of involvement.
- UK positioning, and leading the world in English
- Promoting UK ELT to the world
- Securing the best possible operating environment for members
- Keeping in touch with members
"Is this going in right direction? If not, how? I want to know what you see as key priorities. I want to test this with the board, staff, members, stakeholders, refine plans and get into tighter shape. I want to do annual market research with you. Call it satisfaction research - I want to test ideas with you and check with you what you think are key issues in a year's time."
Partnership, he said, would be at the heart of what English UK did, concluding: "I look at this industry now and do see a really bright future ahead... you can win that space. The UK can continue to lead the world in English."
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