Covid-19's effect on UK ELT was discussed in a short but moving debate in Parliament this week, as MPs warmly praised the industry and asked the Government to extend the support it is providing.
The adjournment motion was raised and led by Eastbourne MP Caroline Ansell, who has five ELT centres in her constituency.
Support came from colleagues on all sides of the House, including Conservatives Anthony Mangnall (Torbay), Harriett Baldwin (Worcestershire), Sally Ann Hart (Hastings and Rye) and Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon), the SNP's Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) and Jim Shannon (Strangford) of the DUP, who said there was "an urgent need for Government assistance."
Opening the debate, Ms Ansell quoted English UK research saying: "'We anticipate that the huge loss of student volume and revenue already seen in 2020 will mean around 30 per cent of UK ELT centres will cease trading and more than this will not survive the traditionally quiet winter season'.
"These are the words of the sector representative body English UK on the potentially disastrous prognosis of one of most successful exports: the ELT industry. I fear ELT must be recognised as being doubly hit, being one of the first industries to fall to the Covid-19 effect and to compound that will be one of the last to rally."
ELT faced all the challenges of the hospitality sector with no domestic market to pivot to and little room to diversify, she said, as online learning was "no substitute" for the experience of living and learning the language in the UK.
She outlined its many benefits and said that in these times of challenge and change it was necessary to create wraparound support and be "match fit", looking at anything which made the UK less competitive as "this has been a hugely important sector for us… and long may that continue."
"But it won't be this summer," she said, again quoting English UK that almost half of all trade is done between July and September "and that is now lost".
Outlining some of the Government schemes which the sector had been able to access, she said that just 17 applications for the business rates relief scheme had been granted by local authorities despite all centres having applied.
Interjecting, Hastings and Rye MP Sally Ann Hart suggested it was time to "roll out the red carpet [for ELT students] and perhaps consider having the terms of visas equal between universities, schools and colleges."
Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond also interjected, saying that business rates relief was "a postcode lottery" which could be solved very quickly with clarification from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government that ELT centres were eligible.
Continuing, Ms Ansell described the "catastrophic" collapse of the junior market before going on to ask who in government would lead ELT's rally. She said the sector's needs and interests were caught up in "a jigsaw" of different government departments and asked Graham Stuart to take up the question of whether one owning department could provide "focus and firepower" on sector representation and "put forward the pressing need to create a cross departmental plan to tailor bespoke support to this sector." She also asked him to encourage all local councils to include their local language schools in the business rates relief scheme.
She went on to ask what plans were in place to help, outlining many additional measures already outlined by English UK as important for recovery, including access to GREAT and TAP funding. Government support was needed if we needed to retain these benefits, she said, and its "deep value to the UK needs to be celebrated."
Responding for the government, export minister Graham Stuart repeatedly praised the industry and English UK, and said the sector was "front and centre" of the International Education Strategy.
As joint chair of the government's international education sector advisory group he said he had witnessed the "world-class excellence of UK English language teaching" which he said was a superb British success story, enriching the UK's cultural life, bringing young people to our shores, strengthening worldwide ties, building our profile in some of the world's fastest growing markets and fostering prosperity.
ELT was central to this broader educational success, he said, and he thought it might generate closer to £1.6 than £1.4bn. English UK research had shown 80 per cent of students would return to the UK, which was "a huge vote of confidence in our ELT sector and the country as a whole" as we compete in what is an increasingly competitive global educational marketplace. The sector was both important in its own right and as a pipeline to UK universities.
He said ELT providers had been particularly hard hit by the impact of Covid-19 and this summer season looked to be badly affected. He said the Government had responded to an "unprecedented situation in an unprecedented manner" and the Department for International Trade had a pivotal role to help education exporters as it co-ordinated efforts with other departments to give the ELT sector support it needs. He therefore thought his department was taking on the central role Caroline Ansell had described: he would do his best to champion the sector and spread understanding about the importance of the sector but he could not take on the visa element or deal with relief for business rates.
He outlined current Government schemes before moving on to specific DIT support which was informed through close partnerships with representatives from the sector. The joint DIT/ DFE international education advisory group which he co-chaired and of which English UK was a member was key to this work which aimed to fulfil the international education strategy. "This country is determined to be open to people from all over the world to come and be educated here," he said, talking of "golden opportunities" ahead for UK education exports post-Covid.
The DIT-led English Language Training Working Group, which included representatives from across the sector, ensured the ELT sector voice was heard "loud and clear" he said and the department was working to put providers' interests front and centre of its work to grow the UK's education exports worldwide. "I think I've answered the honourable Lady's question about which department will champion the sector," said Mr Stuart.
"What plans do we have to champion the industry? It is part and parcel of the international education strategy and the ELT element is absolutely vital and has to be recognised not only for itself but what it does for others. We believe ELT is a truly world class UK export which helps put put this country on the map for hundreds of thousands of young people worldwide. Covid has had a terrible impact on our ELT providers… we are working to ensure this dynamic sector has the support it needs to thrive once this crisis has abated."
He concluded: "My message to our ELT sector this that this government is placing education at the very heart of our efforts to build a truly global Britain… We are building a Britain that is ever more welcoming for students from across the world and our brilliant English language teaching providers will give them the key to unlock their full potential to the benefit of us all."