English UK members have told us that their number one priority is for us to lobby the government to be more supportive for our industry.
This week, we launched our new lobbying strategy at the English UK Annual Conference & AGM in Manchester and we need the help of every member to make it work.
Members from centres all over the country joined in a passionate discussion about the plans, which Chief Executive Eddie Byers described a move away from from the association's long-standing strategy of lobbying individuals. English UK now has a member-led Public Affairs Advisory Group (PAAG), and a public affairs consultancy, MHP: the plan includes commissioning independent research into the value of the sector to the UK, and encouraging members, staff and host families to use the lobbying pack, Work With Us, which was sent out on election day.
Timothy Blake, chair of the PAAG, said what was now needed was a new and persuasive campaigning effort at local and national level: "We've got to do a lot of this ourselves. There are almost 500 members, with around 15,000 staff and how many host families. We have to find allies, MPs and others the government will listen to. MPs will listen to our staff much more than capitalists like me: host families have a huge and important role to play.
"We really really do need to be able to utilise every single lever we've got. We can't change the environment overnight: it will need lot of prioritising on your part to achieve something.
"We have to keep on pushing the point that students are not migrants and we need to get them taken out of the statistics. We want to make sure we demonstrate the economic value of the industry: we've always been able to produce a certain amount of data but not with objective credibility. A specialist firm will be putting together a robust set of figures for us: it may be you are asked to contribute: can I beg you to make this a big priority, as if we have no data we are going in to fight with our hands behind our backs."
Mr Blake said that while the industry did have friends in government, they were not in the Home Office. It was important to avoid fragmentation in the wider industry and build alliances with other parts of it, persuading the government that Accreditation UK could be used for Tier 4 compliance and other important issues - and also to stop things getting worse."
Val Hennessy of International House Bristol added: "We have to pull together. Every time you get a survey, email, whatever, don't treat it as something you can deal if and when you get time. We need that information, and MHP will be able to make good use of it.
"We know the industry is valuable, changing lives and changing the world. We have to prove it - as nobody cares, if we don't. "
Tas Bhanji from public affairs consultants MHP explained the three-point action plan, starting with the economic impact analysis, followed by implementation where English UK's chief executive and PAAG members would meet officials to discuss the results and the visa system, building a relationship.
The third part of was "thought leadership" where schools as SMEs would build local contacts with MPs and other influential people. "We want you to meet your local MP, and we need to know who it is… and if it's Theresa May we need to know before you do it! We'll provide you with the toolkit, and we're here to help so drop us a line if you have any concerns before the meeting," she said.
Urging everyone in the room to contact three member centres they knew well to talk about the campaigning, she added: "If this is going to be grass roots - we are the grass." Maurice Cassidy, of International House London, said: "I echo the plea for everybody to get involved: it really does help."
Summing up, English UK Chair Sarah Cooper said: "I think we all have a clear idea now where we want to be and how to get there. This is our industry, this is our association, and we are all activists."
English UK members: this is what we need you to do (and how we can help)
- Please prioritise any information requests sent on our behalf: we need data to build up an accurate and independent picture of the economic impact of our industry
- Read the lobbying pack we sent out last week and get involved (download the Work With Us leaflet). Please tell us about meetings you organise, and get in touch if you want a member of the English UK team to come along or get involved in some way.
View the English UK Annual Conference & AGM image gallery and on our facebook page.
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