Help us become the world's premier ELT destination again
English UK policy position paper | published April 2023
The UK's English language teaching (ELT) sector needs support from the government to regain its position as the world's leading ELT study destination.
We want to see policies that enable school groups to visit the UK easily, that allow young people to work while they study English, that allow accredited language centres in the UK to thrive as businesses, and encourage people from around the world to choose the UK as their study destination.
Read about our key policy suggestions below, and download our position paper to understand the full background and value of the UK's ELT sector.
If you want to support our aims, please share this paper with your MP.
Read more about our nine policy suggestions:
- Expand and reform the Youth Mobility Scheme
- Introduce a Youth Group Travel Scheme for children
- Recognise the List of Travellers Scheme
- Enable students to apply for a new visa for further study without leaving
- Restore work rights for all students studying on a Student Visa
- Recognising Accreditation UK on all visa routes
- Help ELT centres to recruit the qualified seasonal staff they need
- Set a national growth target for ELT students in the UK
- Support our international UK ELT marketing efforts
1. Expand and reform the Youth Mobility Scheme
The UK Youth Mobility Scheme (YMS) is a cultural exchange programme allowing people aged 18-30 from 11 countries to live, work and study in the UK for two years.
Expanding and reforming the scheme would make the UK a more attractive place to study English and could help bridge short-term staffing problems for ELT and the hospitality industry.
The YMS is currently under-used: the UK only has a few agreements and there is a mismatch between supply and demand in countries' allocation of places. At present, there are 59,500 YMS visas available each year but in 2019 only 20,107 people arrived using them. While there are 30,000 visas allocated to Australia but rarely more than 10,000 applicants, there is always more demand in Japan than can be met by the 1,500 visas allocated.
- Expand the YMS with bilateral deals with EU countries.
- Include YMS in future trade deals, as it has been with India.
- Enhance YMS agreements which extend the age limit to 35 and allow up to three years in the host country, as is now the case with Australia and New Zealand.
- Increase flexibility in how quotas are used to better meet supply and demand.
2. Introduce a Youth Group Travel Scheme for children
We propose a new group travel scheme that makes it easier for school groups to visit the UK.
The end of passport-free travel from the EU has severely impacted UK ELT's most important market. In 2019, 50% of students studying English in the UK were aged under 18. Most school groups from Europe travelled on their ID cards: few owned passports as they could travel throughout Europe without one. Collectively this market segment contributed over £1 billion annually to the UK economy and supported over 17,200 UK jobs in every part of the UK.
The current requirement for under 18s to have passports has caused an 83% decline in EU student group visitors to the UK in 2022. That equates to around £875 million in lost revenue and 14,500 lost jobs, based on research by the Tourism Alliance, UKinbound, English UK, the European Tourism Association (ETOA) and the British Educational Travel Association (BETA). (LINK)
Our Youth Group Travel Scheme, proposed with the Tourism Alliance and BETA, would allow EU nationals and residents under the age of 18 to stay in the UK for up to six weeks as part of an educational group. Their teacher would travel with a passport.
"If students cannot travel using their ID cards, our groups have told us that they will not come to the UK. They will go to Ireland or Malta. This school will not be financially viable without those groups and after 53 years will be forced to close." – language school owner, 2019
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3. Recognise the List of Travellers scheme
Resuming the List of Travellers Scheme would allow many more school trips to the UK.
Before the UK left the European Union, the List of Travellers scheme allowed EU residents without EU citizenship to travel to the UK as part of a group without needing to apply for a visa.
This made it much easier for school groups to visit the UK, as there are often students in the class who do not have an EU passport. In many cases, trips are not allowed to go ahead if some classmates cannot participate. The List of Travellers form gave UK immigration the child's full details but saved the expense and bureaucracy of a visa application.
A market that would particularly benefit from this is Italy, where it is common for children to be residents but not have Italian passports. Italy was the top source market for UK ELT before the pandemic, sending over a quarter of all students in 2019. In 2022 is expected to have recovered to around 15% of pre-pandemic levels. We know that many Italian school groups are choosing alternative destinations like Ireland and Malta where they do not require visas.
4. Enable students to apply for a new visa for further study without leaving
UK ELT's competitor countries allow students to apply for a visa covering several stages of study without the need to return home and reapply.
During the pandemic, the UK granted this on a temporary basis to students stranded in the UK during the first national lockdown.
Restoring this policy would make the UK a more attractive destination, especially if those arriving on the 11-month short-term study visa could apply for a full student visa without having to leave the country.
It would undoubtedly make the UK a more attractive proposition for committed students who need to improve their English skills before progressing to university-level study.
5. Restoring work rights for all students studying on a Student Visa
The UK faces a significant disadvantage compared to its competitors, which generally allow all English language students to work during their courses.
Until around a decade ago, ELT students had the right to work in the UK. Work rights have since been removed from international students studying at further education colleges and private language centres.
We want to see work rights restored for English language students studying on a Student Visa. Work is an attractive part of the offer for students as it allows them to practise English in the workplace and gain valuable work experience and life skills. It would particularly attract students from markets such as Brazil as well as the EU, where freedom of movement means we are losing out to Ireland or Malta.
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6. Recognising Accreditation UK on all visa routes
This change would enable our 300+ English UK member language centres to offer a wider range of courses and create a more competitive UK offer.
Accreditation UK, run by the British Council in partnership with English UK, is the only UK inspection framework focusing on ELT. It raises standards within the industry and has a global reputation for excellence.
We believe the Accreditation UK scheme should be recognised by the Home Office as an educational oversight provider on the sponsored student visa route as well as for short-term study and visitors.
7. Help ELT centres to recruit the qualified seasonal staff they need
ELT is a seasonal industry that needs large numbers of qualified staff during short summer and Easter peaks.
Before the UK left the EU, English language schools often recruited qualified EU staff to complement their UK-based staff during the peak seasons. Over 50% of summer activity leaders came from the EU and many teachers and directors of studies did too.
Now, most English UK members are reporting staff shortages which are difficult to address in the short term.
Schools are also facing a lack of qualified English as a foreign language teachers. There is no financial support available to cover teachers' training costs, and TEFL has become less attractive to UK graduates since they have no automatic right to work in EU countries.
In order to recruit quality staff, the UK ELT sector needs:
- An uncapped Youth Mobility Scheme for EU, EEA and Swiss nationals, enabling them to work for ELT centres once more, especially in seasonal roles
- Inclusion of ELT teachers and activity leaders on the Migration Advisory Committee's Shortage Occupations Lists
- Advanced Learner Loans to be available for TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) training providers within privately-owned language centres as well as further education colleges.
8. Set a national growth target for ELT students in the UK
The International Education Strategy's 2021 update did not include a growth target for international English language students studying in the UK.
This is an omission. 80% of ELT students wish to return to the UK for travel or further study 29 and it is a clear pathway to our universities as well as an important channel to promote intercultural understanding. Targets for the UK higher education sector should be joined by ambitious targets for all parts of the UK's international education system, including ELT.
9. Support our international UK ELT marketing efforts
The pause in normal business caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the change to UK immigration regulations means global marketing of ELT is more important than ever.
We have been proactive in this area: Our GREAT Britain-branded English with Confidence campaign includes a website, shareable collateral and social media, providing reliable and reassuring information about studying English in the UK after Brexit.
Our research identifies growing global demand for ELT. Government support is necessary to help us create and develop a presence in potential new source markets.
In order to thrive, the UK ELT sector needs:
- Funding to expand our English with Confidence campaign to meet the needs of our sector and target priority audiences for recovery and growth
- Clear, consistent and positive messaging led by the government. This will support promotional campaigns targeting partners, buyers, students and influencers
- Increased support for Ministerial and Export Champion-led trade missions to key markets where specific barriers to trade have been identified
- More grants and financial support for education exporters, especially in new markets.
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