Do ELT courses need more "UK-ness" to differentiate themselves from international competition? ELT consultant Michael Carrier thinks so, and his opening speech set the tone for the first-ever English UK Academic Conference.
Outlining reasons to be cheerful about the UK industry, he suggested key areas which could help schools take control of future growth. They included using the UK's status as a digital leader, the huge growth in English as a medium of instruction (EMI), and the importance of instrumental English which he described as "English for an ambition, a purpose, a life-changing development in a student's life."
He also stressed the importance of making the UK offer distinctive, both in courses and textbooks.
"What is the difference between learning with British teachers, British books and taking British exams in Cyprus? Defining that difference is essential to sell our courses," he said, adding: "This is not a one-off, this is a trend. This is about foregrounding the UK-ness about the programmes we offer. If you come here you get some other value – it's about added value.
"With competition growing overseas and online, we need to focus on what is specific about the UK – we need to include more UK-ness in our thinking, our promotion, the content in our classes. Business links, folk music, art, famous writers... every lesson should remind learners that they are in the UK, not elsewhere. Well, maybe not every lesson... but if learners feel like they could be anywhere, we are missing a trick."
Greg Nowak, academic manager of Anglo in Bournemouth, was among many delegates who were discussing the idea with colleagues in refreshment breaks. "The first speech was brilliant - to give students reasons to come in the UK, give added value to what we offer in language learning and have a holistic approach to cultural impact. It's very important, otherwise the competition can offer something better, can always say they offer English as a lingua franca.
"Having all these managers and people from these kinds of business here and putting all these ideas together giving a direction is very important. Making it more UK-based, using more UK-based coursebooks – that was something new to me."
Greg was one of around 280 attendees over the two days of the conference, which was aimed at academic managers on the first day and teachers on the second – though a significant number of managers attended the whole event. It replaces the separate English UK Teachers' and Management conferences.
English UK Chief Executive Sarah Cooper was pleased with the way the event had gone. "We thought there was overlap between our conferences for managers and teachers, and that people would welcome the chance to come either for one day or both for CPD and so on. I've had lots of positive feedback from delegates and am delighted with the way it's gone."
Other popular sessions included David Crystal's talk on accents (concluding with a rap), Catherine Walter's research-led demonstration that grammar teaching supports learning, and expert seminars from Silvana Richardson on effective CPD, Vic Richardson on making performance management work, and Anne Margaret Smith on identifying specific learning difficulties.
Mel Judge, the academic manager of Stafford House Summer, said: "To have the two elements together in one conference is a nice opportunity to reflect on practice – and this is quite a luxury for us. We don't have time. Although being here is work, it's nice to relax and think about things – at work there are constant interruptions with people reporting the photocopier has broken or a student who needs to change class.
"It's an academic spa."
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