The future is bright for the English teaching sector, but English UK member centres need to play their part by lobbying their politicians and working with the association to build growth.
English UK's 10th anniversary annual conference was a time for evaluation, celebration, and a bit of exhortation from the outgoing and incoming chief executives as well as politicians interested in the ELT industry.
Tony Millns, founding chief executive who retires at the end of May, said: "It's been an excellent conference. We've done so much in the past decade, but there is more to do, and members have a major part to play.
"If the industry wants a more favourite political climate, then members have to play their part by really lobbying their MPs and parliamentary candidates."
Robert Syms, Conservative MP for Poole, urged members to lobby their MPs. He said: "If you were all in one area like a car plant you would have more clout... you lot have got to act collectively rather than as individuals. You can punch above your weight if you do that." He and Ivor Caplin, inaugural chair of the sector's All Party Parliamentary Group, advised centres to make the case for English language teaching and a favourable visa regime using figures and other evidence.
Incoming chief executive Eddie Byers, who addressed the association for the first time in the conference's closing slot, also wanted more input from members. "The challenge for me is how to create the environment where English UK can do more to help you grow," he said.
Mr Byers said there was a lot to be proud of in English UK, but the sector was not yet benefiting as it should from growth in the global market. Growth would be good for the UK as well as the sector, helping to build a more favourable argument with stakeholders and policy formers.
Mr Byers outlined his four major priorities, stressing that he wanted members to be fully involved in discussing and developing them.
He said: "Is this going in the right direction? If not, how? I want to know what you see as key priorities. I want to test this with the board, staff, members, stakeholders, refine plans and get it into tighter shape. I want to do annual market research with you... and check with you what you think are key issues in a year's time."
In his outgoing speech as chief executive, Tony Millns gave some figures for 2013 showing that while student numbers had risen by 17 per cent in private colleges, though student weeks were up by just one per cent. Student weeks had risen by 6.2 per cent in the state sector.
Turning to politics, he said the net migration target had been the driver of "some extremely perverse policy decisions." He added: "I don't think any sane party leader will repeat a pledge they couldn't meet first time," going on to talk about meeting Yvette Cooper, Labour's shadow home secretary.
He said other major and positive signs included support for the international education strategy, and said the association needed to make the most of "what is likely to be a closely fought general election in a lot of constituencies. Members will be crucial pressing candidates to be supportive of international education and the English sector, and we'll be looking to brief you all this year."
He was pleased that English UK had now reached 478 members "and we are the only game in town" and was now pressing for accreditation as a licence to operate for all language centres, including those taking only EU students.
He said the association better represented members' interests with more and increased marketing, cost benefits and more. He mused: "I look back: should we have been more ambitious? Done more, sooner, faster?" he asked, suggesting that international associate membership and a TNE strategy could have come earlier, as could individual professional membership.
"It's been a more interesting 15 years than I expected… but it's a good time to hand over. I don't want to outstay my welcome. I've done 10 years as chief executive and that's plenty. I urge you to get involved… even if that's going on the forum.
"Thank you for your support and farewell." Mr Millns then got a standing ovation from the room full of members. He was not the only one standing down: Sue Edwards, chair for six years, also announced that she would not stand for re-election for the post and was also applauded by members and thanked for her "diplomacy" and "wise counsel" by vice-chair Sarah Cooper.
Also thanked for years of work was Michael Cornes, former Treasurer of the association, who joined the ranks of English UK's honorary members at the conference. "It's a real honour," he said.
And a final vote of thanks went to Beth Okona-Mensah, English UK's professional services officer, who toiled to create more than a hundred delicious celebratory English UK cupcakes in red, white and blue for the conference.
So what else did we learn at the conference?
For more detail on the events over the two days, as well as the preceding Parliamentary Reception, you'll find a series of blogs in the Member News area and there are photos in our gallery.