The Member Roadshows were created last year by former Chief Executive Eddie Byers, who wanted to give all member centres the chance to be more closely involved in English UK, find out more about what it is doing and have their voices heard.
Three Roadshows planned for November and December were cancelled after Eddie's sudden death and are being rescheduled for this spring: look out for one near you.
Introducing the afternoon, attended by 14 members from the region, representatives from Cambridge English, plus senior and membership staff of English UK, Deputy Chief Executive Annie Wright explained: "The idea is to have an informal conversation in a forum where you can meet colleagues and meet us so we can understand what your concerns are, especially in your region, and we can discuss the national view - maybe the global view, that we have."
Members were very positive about the afternoon. Jill Stewart, director of studies at EF ILS Cambridge, said: "I enjoyed it - it was very insightful. I think it's important as an industry that we band together to work on the very good reputation that we have with a professional organisation that has some say in how we develop."
Beverley Simon, centre director of EC Cambridge, said it had been good to network and to be able to discuss and feedback opinions to the organisation. Jenny Wilson, the assistant head of International Development at the Colchester Institute, added: "I think it's very helpful to have a face to face meeting - we never normally have time, and emails aren't the same."
In Cambridge, wide-ranging questions were asked including about English UK's membership model and value for money, whether ISI could be put on an equal footing with Accreditation UK for English UK membership, about PON groups, student number projections and the Government's attitude to immigration and students. There were also group sessions on English UK's international marketing strategy and domestic issues around Tier 4 and inspection, led by Deputy Chief Executives Annie Wright and Huan Japes.
One of the biggest issues of the afternoon was English UK statistics and how they might be made more helpful for member centres trying to plan ahead.
Jodie Gray explained that there was now a statistics steering committee reviewing what English UK produces with StudentMarketing, with an expectation of launching a new scheme at the end of the year. "By May it's too late, we want to look at how to produce more effective data for everyone to make better decisions. This is the last year we do things in their current form," she said. Annie Wright added that there was discussion about forward projection as part of being able to help members make better decisions, and that a big sample wasn't necessary to make these robust.
Answering the question about English UK's membership model, Huan Japes explained that subscriptions had been frozen this year because times were hard and the association wanted to keep things on an even keel. He added that the organisation was considering how to develop its membership model "to the best advantage of different types of member."
On English UK's approach to the Government's attitude to immigration and students, Huan talked about building a coalition with other bodies such as the Association of Colleges to build a groundswell. English UK was relatively small compared with universities, and linking with others showed the interdependence between different international education sectors, he said.
Answering a question about PON, Head of Market Development Jodie Gray explained that English UK was trying to find out when the next round of funding was coming through and was pencilling in a briefing session for members in late February, which might be postponed if there had not been any indication of when money might be allocated. "Watch this space," she added.
In addition to answering questions, the team talked about English UK's plans and strategy, including the recently-published report into the economic impact of ELT and how that would be used to campaign on behalf of our industry. Members would be getting an updated "toolkit" on how to work with their local MPs and opinion formers, explained Huan.
Jodie Gray outlined the English is GREAT campaign, for which English UK bid for and won significant funding for a multi-channel campaign in Brazil which was "probably our most successful student-facing campaign to date - we're hoping to do it again."
Early evaluation showed that 33,800 students had attended fairs, and 1,900 videos created for a scholarship competition had so far been viewed well over 85,000 times, with a campaign reaching an estimated 18m people in Brazil.
"We're competing with other big competitor destinations: we want to make sure our profile is high, creating the best possible environment for you guys to go to these countries and sell your products," she said. "We're very hopeful about this: it's a new way of working with us accessing these funds and focusing on key priority markets," added Annie.
In the group sessions, Huan outlined his belief that a significant number of English UK members might leave Tier 4 this year, but that many had different worries about doing so.
"We used to keep a neutral position on this I would say we're now slightly veering towards advising that if Tier 4 is not a big part of business and if you don't want additional scrutiny leaving might be worth considering," he said.
In the international session, debate raged around the value of English UK investing in direct bookings - Jodie explained that even if students don't book directly they are increasingly likely to have checked out centres online - and the rationale for partnering with Language Learning Portals with a member discount. Another hot topic was English UK statistics and what members needed from those, with members wanting figures earlier in the year and also with future projections to help with planning.
*The English UK Roadshow programme continues over the next few months, covering every region in the UK. We will publicise each Roadshow on the website and send out invitations to members when we organise an event in their region - do look out for this information.
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