Eastbourne and Willingdon MP Caroline Ansell has led a parliamentary debate on the economic crisis facing English language schools due to coronavirus.
She told MPs that the schools - a major industry in the constituency - have seen a huge loss of income since covid-19 hit with two of its key markets – Italy and China - now gone for the crucial summer months.
The industry is worth up to £1.6 billion to the UK and employs 34,000 people – 90% of them now furloughed under government support.
She told the Adjournment Debate yesterday that figures from trade body, UK English, has found that around 30% of UK English language testing centres will cease trading and the industry will be one of the last to rally.
“The sector has all the challenges of the hospitality sector, but with no domestic markets to pivot toward—no staycations—and little room for diversifying, with online learning being no substitute for the experience of living the language in the country of its origin,” she told the Commons.
She explained that, in Eastbourne, the sector is “a vital part of the visitor landscape”.
“Our international schools are local employers. They provide business for local transport and tourist venues, and pump-prime retail and food outlets. Likewise, importantly, there is secondary income support for the several hundred host families for whom the time in the summer hosting students makes the difference.”
Caroline said the government’s unprecedented support through furlough and bounce back loans had been a great help but she called on the government to do more and asked the international trade minister Graham Stuart: “In this critical juncture, will he put forward the pressing need to orchestrate a cross-departmental recovery plan to tailor bespoke support to the sector? Will he encourage all local councils to extend their support to include local language schools?
“Many ELT schools are excluded from the business rate relief scheme for retail hospitality and leisure businesses, despite providing educational holidays for more than half a million overseas visitors every year, who stay on average for two, three or four weeks.”
Caroline asked if there was a possibility of extending the validity of the six and 11-month visas where course start dates have been postponed, to ensure that the UK’s ELT sector can welcome back those students who had already booked and paid for courses to begin as soon as travel restrictions allow.
She also asked about provision and plans from the Department for Education to champion the industry in the post-lockdown recovery phase.
In reply, the minister said: As the exports minister and co-chairman of the education sector advisory group…..I will, as best I can, seek to champion the sector. I can assure my honourable friend and other members across the house that we are working closely with other departments to champion and spread understanding of the importance of the sector.
“This country is determined to be open to people from all over the world to come and be educated here.”