Out of all the interesting sessions at the English UK Marketing Conference 2016, the most popular with delegates was a session where current ELT students talked about their experiences in the UK.
Each table at the conference venue had two students from different countries, who answered questions about why they chose the UK, what they thought of their accommodation and teaching, and more. Each table then reported main points back to the whole room.
"It's one of the most worthwhile things I've done at one of these workshops for many years and we should do more," said Andrew Edwards from LSI Portsmouth. "I thought it was brilliant, fluent, intelligent and thoughtful. We had a student from Russia and were able to really investigate what she thought.
"She said it was really important for principals to get out of their offices and talk to students, and that's one thing I've learned today."
Findings from the session, organised by The PIE, included a desire by some students to be able to see host families and rooms before arriving and chances for social interaction with people who weren't students. For some price was a driver, several had found using agents useful even though they had chosen their school through word of mouth, and there were contradictory opinions on paper brochures.
Another popular session at the event, held at Etc. in London's Bishopsgate and attracting almost 200 attendees, was Jacqueline Kassteen's opening plenary on marketing to millennials. This included interesting insights on what young people are looking for when they make important decisions, including about studying abroad.
Ms Kasteen, a international education marketing consultant, talked about the relationship between people and technology, and how technology is driving changes in behaviour. She said that small language schools might not think it was possible to change behaviour - but that was exactly what they were doing, changing the lives of their students.
She said: "Even if you have students who have travelled abroad, this may be their first time in a foreign country or the UK - think of all the first-time memories taking place in your school which will shape their thinking about the UK and the English language. You are changing mindset, and their behaviour will change. They will speak better English more often. You want them to go home a different person, a better person, and to find ways of reminding them so they remember you as the key, the place where they really got it… it's more than a three week language course.
"It's a bigger conversation, to be part of students learning for their later lives, to change their lives. Does our marketing speak to that or is it all about courses and accommodation? It's time to think what we're offering, and what students need," she said.
Huan Japes, English UK's deputy chief executive for professional services, was delighted with the day. "The programme was focused on digital marketing and growth markets, and The PIE's session with real students also proved to be a simple but very effective and popular idea. It let our delegates get first-hand feedback from people who are studying in our member centres but are perhaps from different markets or backgrounds to those they usually see.
"I've had lots of positive comments about the programme, and also the venue, where the surroundings and the excellent catering has made us all feel as though the day is a bit of a treat, as well as focusing us all on building our businesses."
The programme also included panel sessions on the Chinese market and industry trends, and a detailed talk from StudentMarketing's Samuel Vetrak, who analysed international figures to show that ELT is now a mature market which will behave differently in future, meaning further adaptations are necessary for businesses to thrive.
The latest in the series of market reports from English UK and the British Council was launched in a special session at the end of the day, free to attend for any English UK member who could then stay for the networking drinks reception.
Laura Mould of Oxford Spires Language school, said it had been a really good day, with both excellent sessions and the opportunity to meet and discuss industry trends with colleagues. "It gives us all a wider scope," she said. Maribel Cabrera of Country Cousins had particularly liked the sessions on China and from Jacqueline Kassteen. "It was very useful," she said.
"It's really nice to leave your desk and come to something like this as we go through a very busy marketing season, it reminds you of what we're here for and that other people are encountering the same things, and it's very refreshing," said Sarah Hamilton of LILA.
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