What we learned at our 2023 Members' Conference
24 May 2023

English UK members conference 2023

What we learned at our 2023 Members' Conference

Our annual Members' Conference and AGM took place in London and online on Friday 12 May. Despite the train strike, members came from as far away as Canada, Cardiff, Devon and York. Over 70 joined in person with up to 47 at any one time online.

"Our mission is to harness the collective energy of our members. We do best when we are working together", said chief executive Jodie Gray. 

English UK's strategy will build a strong, welcoming, inclusive, responsible and sustainable industry

Introducing our new strategy to 2025, English UK chief executive Jodie Gray shared the association's ambitions for the next five years:

  • Build a strong, growing membership community.
  • Influence UK policy for a better operating environment.
  • Promote UK ELT to maximise sector recovery.
  • Strengthen sector capacity to support recovery and growth.
  • Take real strides towards sustainability.

As part of our ambition to maximise sector recovery, plans for StudyWorld were announced. Our next events, are StudyWorld Online in September, a StudyWorld China Roadshow in November and a London event in January 2024. In 2025 we'll be taking the event to the North of England for StudyWorld Manchester 2025. 

"We will focus on promoting the UK international sector and enhance the friendly, relaxed and productive feel," Jodie Gray said, adding that the face-to-face event would be "consciously smaller". 

Jodie also gave an overview of the association's recent lobbying work on immigration rules that would support sector recovery and make it easier to hire seasonal staff. Find out more about our new policy position paper. 

New student statistics and trends in UK ELT bookings

Ivana Slobodnikova, director at our intelligence partner BONARD, shared data from our new 2023 Student Statistics report, which shows that post-pandemic recovery accelerated in 2022. 

Students weeks doubled compared to 2021 and there was an "impressive" three-fold rise in student numbers. Overall, our member centres recovered 60% of 2019 student weeks and 51% of full-time student numbers last year, with juniors rising to almost 50% of the total.  

Ivana discussed the data and student booking trends with a panel of English UK members including Shoko Doherty, Vice Chair of English UK and CEO of Celtic English Academy, Lisa James, Managing Director of Young Learners at EC English and Neil Harvey, Chief Executive of UK College of English.  

Although Asia's recovery has taken longer than expected, Lisa James said, China is going to play a big part in the young learner market going forward. She also revealed the new lack of bed capacity in universities meant they were trying to persuade their largest market that sharing a bathroom really was okay.

Shoko Doherty told us she was seeing more direct bookings arriving via WhatsApp and Instagram. Her main challenge was trying to cater to a shorter lead-in time between students booking and starting their courses.

21st-century skills, English for specific contexts and flexible learning are important to future of ELT

The authors of the British Council's The Future of English: Global Perspectives research project presented some of their findings from a series of round table groups that discussed the future of English language use and teaching. 

Mike Solly, co-author of the research said all the research groups had shown that English for special purposes was "no longer just for managers, engineers and scientists – it's for flower arrangers, retail and hotel staff - people that need English in a particular way extremely contextually." "Sometimes the kind of English we've taught in the past can work against the kind of English people need now.

Mina Patel, another co-author, said that English language requirements now are 21st-century skills. "Employers ask why don't graduates have them, why aren't you teaching them? It's about making it explicit in curricula, teaching, and marketing."

She also said that people are learning English for their careers 'on the go' and increasingly want flexible solutions that help them learn around their other commitments. "I think that's a real opportunity."

Members Conference 2023

Optimism is returning to UK ELT

After speaking to many members, Chair of the English UK board Mark Rendell said: "I think there's a sense of optimism. Business looking good and many of you told me you're full for the summer."

He was also feeling positive after the Parliamentary reception, where trade minister the Earl of Minto said he looked forward to discussing our suggestions and MP Stephen Hammond had supported some of our key asks including restoring work rights for English language students on a Student visa.

Industry stakeholders support our calls for government support

Janet Garcia, President of PSI Services which owns Skills for English, sponsored both the conference and the parliamentary reception the day before. Janet said: "The UK is no longer the first-choice destination country for learning the language which is why I was super impressed by the English UK presentation yesterday, which was very powerful. It's criminal you've lost that position and we're very supportive of this group of people in trying to win that back."

Other exhibiting service providers were positive about their attendance: one got an email enquiry from an online delegate just half an hour after the exhibitors all gave an elevator pitch.

English UK members can change the lives of refugees

Ukrainian doctor Inna Soldatenko got a standing ovation for sharing her story of coming to the UK and being supported by our partner RefuAid to requalify as a hospital consultant here, including getting her OET at Wimbledon School of English. Overcome with emotion, she said: "I am really thankful for RefuAid and all their partners in supporting our doctors during this challenging time - thank you from the bottom of my heart." 

Our next Members' Conference will take place in May 2024. 

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