Chief executive Sarah Cooper's keynote speech promised the association would lead the industry to success by highlighting four core areas of support: market intelligence, quality, promotion and public affairs, and successive sessions covered all four.
Market intelligence included the latest student statistics, a first look at the new quarterly data scheme (QUIC) and a market report on Brazil, while public affairs was covered by two expert-led sessions on possible Brexit scenarios and how to make the most of them. Quality and promotion were covered with popular sessions on working with agents, the latest information on PON 2017 and an update on how the robustness of the Accreditation UK inspection regime is being developed.
"The statistics were brilliant and that's why I came if I'm honest," said English UK member Patrick Murphy of BLS English. "Last year we were told that the way to survive is to be targeting your marketing. In a business like mine with only a certain amount of money you can't throw it in the air. I started looking at the data and putting my budget in countries in the top ten. The data started me thinking about it – and I am really looking forward to the QUIC data when that comes."
Jane Dancaster of the Wimbledon School of English was also looking forward to the first QUIC data later this month and was "absolutely delighted" with the preview of QUIC. "Data is crucial. Everyone should join QUIC," she said.
The student statistics report and QUIC are part of English UK's drive to build more robust and comprehensive data for members, as part of the association's plan to lead the industry into new areas in the coming years, said Sarah Cooper.
"We also want to celebrate and share the innovation that is around in the industry to embrace change and new opportunities," she said, adding that the final sessions, on the impact of Brexit, had suggested that no major changes to student inflow were likely for some time.
English UK would be helping businesses to think laterally, strengthening existing partnerships and creating new ones, creating both regional and cross-industry networks. "We will be reaching out to every member to help them engage in the new Europe," she said.
Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King's College London and an expert on the UK in a changing Europe, outlined the various difficulties of quickly implementing a new immigration regime after Brexit.
To do it for March 2019 was "wholly unrealistic," he said, suggesting that some degree of free movement might continue for another couple of years after that, perhaps as part of transitional arrangements. The Home Office was going to be under so much pressure that there would be little "headspace or capacity" to make too many changes to the student system in the short term, while "some of the wackier ideas aren't going anywhere."
He also thought the slowing economy might naturally bring down migration levels, easing the political pressure on the government. "What can your sector do? I would demonstrate… linkages between your part of it and the rest of the sector, the number of people who go on from your courses to other courses," he said, adding: "Try to the best of your ability to find win-wins with the Home Office on administrative burdens. Given how resource constrained they are, proposing fixes to the current system to reduce burdens on them is something you hope they might welcome."
He concluded: "It's incredibly complex... but there is a huge amount to play for. All is not lost."