UK ELT aims to recover to 2019 enrolment levels by end of 2022

The peak body for the UK’s English Language Teaching (ELT) sector has published a recovery plan that aims to restore the enrolment in British language programmes to 2019 levels within the next two years.

English UK’s Rebuilding the international market for UK English language teaching: a roadmap to recovery after COVID-19 sets out a multi-phase plan for recovery and future growth, with the initial emphasis bringing the sector back to 2019 levels. In that year, roughly 510,000 international students enrolled with English UK member centres for a combined 1.8 million student weeks. Those numbers tumbled this year due to COVID-19, as in every major ELT destination, with year-over-year declines of up to 82% through the first three quarters of 2020.

“Our industry has been devastated by COVID-19,” says the English UK planning document. “We need to restore confidence in learning safely in English language teaching centres across the UK and get students back into our classrooms. To succeed, we must be bold, innovative, and agile.”

The plan identifies five key audiences, including:

  • EU agents and educational tour operators (ETOs) already focused on the UK market. UK ELT holds a large share of major EU sending markets, and English UK notes that, “High numbers of junior students mean this market is dominated by agents.”
  • Non-EU agents and ETOs already focused on the UK market. The average length of study is much longer for students from major source markets outside the EU – notably China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil – “making these markets critical to business recovery as students begin to travel again.”
  • Emerging agents and ETOs not yet focused on UK ELT. “UK ELT must engage new markets and/ or revive declining markets,” notes the planning report, which indicates a priority on sending markets such as Vietnam, Colombia, Mexico, Japan, and Brazil.
  • Students interested in long-term study in the UK. This focus point anticipates opportunities arising from the UK Government’s International Education Strategy (including the restoration of post-study work opportunities for foreign graduates) which could create “opportunities for ELT to re-establish its role as the access point to the diverse study routes available in the UK.”
  • Buyers and partners for transnational education and other non-traditional models. This last audience group is broadly conceived and intended as a target for UK ELT both for the long-term and for the immediate horizon during what could be a “slow return to in-country teaching”.

On that point, the English UK plan is underpinned by a specific enrolment goal: to return the combined student volumes of member centres to 2019 levels by the end of Q3 2022. The planning document notes that this target anticipates a speedier recovery than many members had projected in survey responses gathered in summer 2020. “Respondents expected some recovery in 2021, with most anticipating 60% of the volume of business prior to the pandemic. 60% of pre COVID-19 volume was seen as a baseline for 2022. Just under half of UK ELT providers anticipated an 80% recovery and a third expected a return to pre COVID-19 business levels.”

The plan’s initial recovery phase anticipates that UK ELT will be represented in important international industry events for agents, buyers, and students – and also through the continuing programme of English UK events. The strategy intends to make heavy use of digital channels as well, and also to expand cross-sectoral marketing efforts in partnership with the British Council, the Education Sector Advisory Group, and others.

Communications for the recovery plan will centre around the core message that UK ELT puts student wellbeing at the forefront, supported by points that emphasise the quality and range of options available for language learners in the UK, the role of UK ELT as a pathway to British higher education, and the simplified immigration system that will take hold in the UK after Brexit.

The plan is not only ambitious in its targets but in its aim to rebuild the industry on a stronger and more sustainable footing for the future. “It must also be noted that the COVID-19 pandemic did not occur in a vacuum,” concludes the report. “Our commitment to UK ELT’s international market recovery sits alongside our commitment to creating a ‘new normal’ that is fairer, safer, and better for everyone.”