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UK’s English Language Teaching sector worth £1.2 billion

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  • Export revenue for the UK’s English Language Teaching (ELT) sector has been estimated at £1.2 billion (US$1.74 billion) for 2014
  • The sector supports more than 26,000 direct and indirect jobs in the UK and has an estimated total economic impact of £2.4 billion (US$3.48 billion)

A recent study commissioned by peak body English UK puts the value of export revenue from the UK’s English Language Teaching (ELT) sector at £1.2 billion (US$1.74 billion) for 2014. The total economic impact of the sector – including student spending on tuition, accommodations, and other living expenses as well as the knock-on effects of spending by ELT centres and their employees and suppliers – was estimated at £2.4 billion (US$3.48 billion).

Supporting the British economy through teaching English as a foreign language also highlights that the sector supports roughly 26,650 jobs throughout the UK and returns a net tax contribution of £194 million (US$281 million) to government coffers.

Supporting the British economy is a clear statement to government stakeholders as to the far-reaching impacts of ELT provision in the UK, and an attempt to reflect the real significance of the sector within the British economy. The full-time equivalent employment attributed to ELT centres (14,300 FTEs in 2014), for example, is larger than that of Coca-Cola or Vodafone in the UK, on par with the government’s own Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and even with reach of BP’s (formerly British Petroleum) complement of 18,000 UK employees.

“Why are we producing this report now, a century after the first accredited English school opened in London?” asks English UK Chair Steve Phillips. “Because our once world-beating industry is shrinking, and it is time for us to highlight its worth as part of our campaign to get the government and opinion-formers working to help us grow for the UK economy.”

Separate reports from English UK, and from other peak ELT bodies in leading destinations around the world, paint a clear picture of the UK’s weakening competitive position.

ELT enrolment is often measured in terms of absolute student numbers but also by student-weeks booked. Supporting the British economy calculates that 650,000 individual students studied at more than 500 accredited ELT centres in the UK in 2014, for an estimated total of 2.6 million student-weeks.

Even so, when counted by student-weeks, the US is the world’s leading provider and has registered steady growth over the past four years. In contrast, bookings by student-week in the UK have declined modestly from 2011 to 2014. Australia has seen solid growth over the same period whereas Canada, currently the fourth-ranked destination, has been essentially flat. In other words, the UK has been losing ground over this period while other major destinations, notably the US and Australia, have registered real growth.

Attendees at the recent English UK Marketing Conference in London were advised that preliminary data for 2015 (compiled by English UK and based on reporting from about half of the association’s private-sector members) shows an average decline of nearly 12% in student-weeks from 2014 levels.

These projected further declines for 2015 (final numbers will be available later this year) will no doubt reinforce the determination of British educators and peak bodies to address a number of policy issues affecting the UK’s international enrolment in ELT and otherwise. These include immigration policy and the inclusion of international students in net migration targets as well student visa procedures and work rights for foreign students.

In related findings, the English UK study notes that 81% of ELT students leave the UK immediately after concluding their courses. This echoes another recent report that indicated 88% of international university students in London returned home immediately following their studies. In contrast, only 4% of ELT-course leavers remain in the UK to work, and 14% stay on for additional studies in Britain.

“Domestic full-time students in the United Kingdom typically spend £21,500 [US$31,100] on subsistence and course fees in a 39-week academic year,” adds the report in commenting on the linkages between ELT enrolment and international student numbers at the tertiary level. “If this is representative of the students who stay on after their English language course for further study, their expenditure could total in the order of £1.9 billion [US$2.75 billion] each year. This does not take into account that university fees paid by international students are typically higher and is therefore a cautious estimate.”

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