MPs and peers will lobby the government with recommendations for supporting UK ELT after an evidence session discussing the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit on the sector.
English UK members and staff were joined by expert witnesses from the tourism industry for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Students meeting, attended by MPs and peers as well as journalists and industry insiders.
Opening the session, Lord Karan Bilimoria, co-chair of the APPG said it had been "a dire, dire situation for the industry since the pandemic started… it's been a nightmare."
Huan Japes, membership director of English UK, set the scene by explaining that student numbers were down 83 per cent in 2020, 91 percent of staff had been furloughed or released, and yet the industry had fallen between the cracks of education and tourism. ELT had not been given the same blanket business rates relief as other tourism and hospitality, and because centres had never been ordered to close there was essentially a postcode lottery in the support they had been given. He did not foresee any recovery until summer 2022.
Government support for ELT would be cost-effective, he said: granting business rates relief for two years would cost a maximum of £18m but save 75 percent of the centres at risk of closure and 10,000 jobs. "By any measure that's a good investment," he said. He also raised the question of educational oversight being extended to the Accreditation UK scheme, saving centres time and resources, extending work rights to ELT centres with a good track record in compliance, and ensuring ERASMUS+ opportunities are not lost. "But shorter term, we need support until international travel returns. Students come on average for 2-4 weeks so if they have to quarantine they can't do that. If someone comes here aged-12 they are more likely to come back in future…and that's recognised in the international education strategy as a central plank. If language schools close we are going to lose a lot of expertise."
Concluding the session, APPG co-chair MP Paul Blomfield said: "I was aware of some of the difficulties and issues facing the sector but not the detail we've heard today - there is a real breadth of concern." He said the APPG parliamentarians and secretariat would follow this up, disentangling the Covid-related issues on business support from Brexit but adding that it would be difficult to argue for border relaxations at this point. Lord Bilimoria promised a letter would go to government with recommendations outlined during the session.