English UK members tell parliamentarians what help they need to survive
MPs and peers will lobby the government with recommendations for supporting UK ELT after an evidence session discussing the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit on the sector.
English UK members and staff were joined by expert witnesses from the tourism industry for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Students meeting, attended by MPs and peers as well as journalists and industry insiders.
Opening the session, Lord Karan Bilimoria, co-chair of the APPG said it had been "a dire, dire situation for the industry since the pandemic started… it's been a nightmare."
Huan Japes, membership director of English UK, set the scene by explaining that student numbers were down 83 per cent in 2020, 91 percent of staff had been furloughed or released, and yet the industry had fallen between the cracks of education and tourism. ELT had not been given the same blanket business rates relief as other tourism and hospitality, and because centres had never been ordered to close there was essentially a postcode lottery in the support they had been given. He did not foresee any recovery until summer 2022.
Government support for ELT would be cost-effective, he said: granting business rates relief for two years would cost a maximum of £18m but save 75 percent of the centres at risk of closure and 10,000 jobs. "By any measure that's a good investment," he said. He also raised the question of educational oversight being extended to the Accreditation UK scheme, saving centres time and resources, extending work rights to ELT centres with a good track record in compliance, and ensuring ERASMUS+ opportunities are not lost. "But shorter term, we need support until international travel returns. Students come on average for 2-4 weeks so if they have to quarantine they can't do that. If someone comes here aged-12 they are more likely to come back in future…and that's recognised in the international education strategy as a central plank. If language schools close we are going to lose a lot of expertise."
- Farhan Quraishi, CEO of Speak Up London, described the "mass exodus" of students when the pandemic began which had seen income drop to zero and later ten per cent of what was expected. Despite this, there had been no support with rent or business rates and there was "an incorrect perception" that it was possible to move from face-to-face to online teaching. There was a "cat and mouse" game of council and government blaming each other for lack of support for the sector, with no-one taking responsibility.
- Anna Goodband, principal of Liverpool School of English said she would normally have a thousand students at this time of year but currently had 53, not because they didn't want to come but because they couldn't get there. "We have had to take the difficult decision that at the end of this week we are closing for July and August. I have never had a summer off," she said. It was really important for the industry to get the same recovery grants as others, because it had an important role to play: her school was a key exam centre for the language exams needed to qualify to work in the NHS as well as for prospective undergraduates. The impact of Brexit was also "enormous" as students on government-funded schemes would go to competitors which continued to allow ID card travel.
- Andrew Mangion, executive chairman and CEO of EC English said: "I will start by apologising if I sound emotional – the last 18 months have been hell. We have all been fighting like warriors to try and save this industry and livelihoods every single day." Describing how he had been forced to permanently close schools in Australia and New Zealand because of their 'hermetically-sealed' borders, he said his group had found it "extremely difficult to get any meaningful landlord support in the UK unlike other countries." UK business loan schemes needed to last longer, and borders needed to reopen to international students: he expected his Maltese school to reach 68 per cent of 2019 bookings by early September, and Cape Town 100 per cent by early August.
- Rachael Farrington, VisitBritain's head of tourism affairs said 614,000 UK visitors in 2018 took an English language course, comprising 4.1 percent of visitor nights and 3.5 per cent of visitor spending. On average, English language students spent 19 nights in the UK compared with seven for visitors overall, and spent £1,532 per visit – more than double. ELT students had a "massive impact" on visitor spend and were "a really important contributor" to the wider tourism sector. They were also younger, and would become advocates for the UK, bringing friends back in future. ELT also contributed to the levelling-up agenda – students were likelier to stay outside London than other visitors. A survey of international travellers found that 69 per cent had a passport and 70 per cent an identity card – but she stressed, these were people who were already travelling.
- Kurt Janson of the Tourism Alliance said inbound tourism was "in dire straits" and the government's tourism recovery plan had little detail on how to achieve its aspiration of recovering international tourism to pre-Covid figures by 2023. The tourism minister had described it as a "living document": this meant it was an open door for the APPG to suggest the help the government could give. ELT was an important part of tourism with 88 per cent of students returning to the UK as tourists: they were "incredibly important" ambassadors. They were also more willing to invest in or trade with the UK later. He suggested the Government should target the final tranche of ARG money at businesses such as ELT which were still suffering, and BRR should also be a focus. He said there could be a solution to the ID cards problem with EU Treaty 37, ratified in 19 countries, which allows travel for young people on collective passports. The UK government needed to work with those countries so that the students could get the passports in an acceptable form. Finally, he suggested a modification to the visa system to create cheaper five-year visas, allowing parents to visit children studying here and potentially bringing millions of pounds of extra tourism revenue to the UK.
Concluding the session, APPG co-chair MP Paul Blomfield said: "I was aware of some of the difficulties and issues facing the sector but not the detail we've heard today - there is a real breadth of concern." He said the APPG parliamentarians and secretariat would follow this up, disentangling the Covid-related issues on business support from Brexit but adding that it would be difficult to argue for border relaxations at this point. Lord Bilimoria promised a letter would go to government with recommendations outlined during the session.
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