Around 230 delegates attended English UK's annual conference in London, double the number in 2017.
With one free place for every centre, a one-day format and an interactive session in the afternoon, the conference was organised to encourage as many English UK members as possible to attend. The mood was also lifted by the annual student statistics, which showed the first improvement in trading for three years.
"I am thrilled with the way it went," said chief executive Sarah Cooper. "We wanted to do something different. We wanted every member to be able to come and we got well over half here. Those who attended have connected with their community more than ever before and were inspired and exhilarated." Chair Steve Phillips was also delighted. "I think it's been a great day for a great number of people, with great intelligence and great networking opportunities. I really hope we can build on this same level of excitement in future AGMs."
Carl Roberton of Stafford House, a regular at the event, said: "It was completely different to last year – there are lots of people who haven't been here before. It's good for networking and representation, and this is a great location right by Tower Bridge. It's also nice to have good trading figures – you can feel it in the room".
During the morning, Patrik Pavlacic and Maria Cervenanova of StudentMarketing, English UK's insight partners, presented the 2018 student statistics, revealing a 14 percent rise in student numbers and a more diverse range of source markets, and suggesting that English UK campaigns such as English is GREAT in Brazil might have contributed to this.
English UK chief executive Sarah Cooper said she was proud of the industry, praising members' efforts to give a quality experience. She saw an official change in attitude to international students: English UK had been invited to join a government advisory group with other education bodies which she saw as "recognition that ELT figures in every part of the sector. We are creating a plan to grow international education for the first time, inbound and outbound, with other government departments involved".
She thought there was recognition that there might have been an "over-robust attitude to students" and that as a matter of self-interest they needed to be taken out of the net migration target.
Launching an English UK campaign in which members are urged to join us in lobbying opinion-formers to get students out of the net migration figures and keep EU students visa-free post Brexit, she concluded: "We aspire to create an environment in which UK ELT is recognised as an important part of the economy, culture and soft diplomacy. We will put all our effort into a sympathetic visa approach for all our students and hopefully no visa at all for EU students."
Opening the conference, Italian mayor Emiliano Valutulini explained how PON and POR funding schemes will work until 2023, adding that he believed most students from first-round projects would travel in the next academic year.
Afternoon sessions were run by business strategist Alastair Dryburgh, who promised delegates he would "make your brains hurt a little" by posing questions such as "What are the big nasty problems for your industry?" sparking wide-ranging discussions before moving into his closing plenary about bringing businesses back to growth.
He said working life was more satisfying if companies were growing (this meant there was more for staff and leaders, and gained respect from customers), dealt generously with suppliers, and set their own path. Although these things were obvious, he said, human psychology made them difficult to put into practice.
He gave three main pieces of advice: