Since 2013, English Language Teaching (ELT) in the UK has been in decline in terms of student numbers and number of weeks of instruction[i] mainly as a consequence of the implementation of new immigration policies. Many may think that only the academic sector should worry about this. However, ELT represents an important proportion of Bournemouth’s economy, and its weakening has deteriorated local people’s lives.
Vanessa, a host family mother, tells her story of how she has had to manage the decrease of visitors. “I used to make my living hosting international students but now I can’t rely on that”. Vanessa used to host from four to six English language students simultaneously all year long, making an average of £600 a week, but now she explained that there are times of the year when she is not hosting anyone, and that only during summer she gets six students at the same time. “I used to work on a charity shop as volunteer, but I quit last year to start a paid-job” she explained. This example shows that the opportunities to host paying international students has been severely reduced and impacts this household’s incomes, which in the end translates into less support the local businesses.
According to Steve King, Chair of the Regional Accredited Language Schools’ Association (RALSA), four RALSA accredited English language schools in the Bournemouth and Poole area have closed since 2011 and all English language schools have seen a marked decrease in the number of students.
There is no official report quantifying the number of direct and indirect jobs that has been affected by these closures. However, Sheryl, an English language teacher, who works in a school of English in Bournemouth town centre, reported that the school in which she works, is currently working with six teachers, out of the twelve they used to have two years ago. She highlighted that the school has been forced to take two more actions to cope with the students decrease, that according to her perspective show the two sides of the coin. Sheryl recalled, “We had to invest on e-learning tools, as an alternative to provide English courses to students that can’t come to UK… I think that’s good because it’s innovation”. However, she was concerned because they had to close the tourism services offered by the school and underlined “I enjoyed the tours very much, but the worst part is our suppliers’, they lost a portion of their jobs, if not all of them”.
King had a similar perspective as he commented about how disappointing it was to see the sector contract after more than forty years of growth and expansion. He said, “Those directly involved in delivering courses and accommodation are losing out but so are many other small businesses – cafes, hotels, tourist attractions, transport and tour companies, and many more”. From this reduction in visiting students, business opportunities have shrunk, and so the spending power of the area residents.
Why is this happening?
The UK government considers a migrant any foreign-born, foreign nationals, or person who has moved to the UK for a year or more[ii]. The UK government’s efforts to decrease the number of migrants has been focused on reducing the number of international students since 2011, when the then chairman of the government’s Migration Advisory Committee, Professor David Metcalf, positioned that 60% of migrants were students from outside EEA[iii].
The people interviewed agree that the government policies and rhetoric have a major role in the decrease in student numbers:
Steve King mentioned that “the strident and negative messaging from our Government” about migration was already adverse for the ELT market. He also noted, “Brexit seemed to communicate to the rest of the world that it was not just the UK Government that did not like foreigners but the British people. Of course, this is almost entirely not so but nonetheless an impression has been made”. Because of Brexit uncertainty, many students are looking more favourably at other destinations.
Sheryl and Vanessa gave more weight to the increasingly complicated and expensive visa application process and the elimination of the work permit. Sheryl said, “Most of my students used to work in fast food restaurants or other shops to have more money to go out at night, travel or just have a more flexible budget”. Vanessa compared the cost and application processes of the visa in different countries: “It’s easier and cheaper to go somewhere else, like Canada for example”.
Patrick, who has a student consulting firm, explained that students who came to the UK to study English used to be able to change their status to Higher Education (HE) students to pursue undergraduate or postgraduate studies without leaving the UK, but now that is not possible, and he thought that that was one of the most impactful changes. “Imagine having to go back to your country to proceed with a complex visa application that you’re not sure you’re going to get, that’s nothing but discouraging” he considered and continued “that’s not my opinion, it’s my clients’, I mean, the potential students’ opinion”. Patrick reported that his personal economic situation is unchanged because he had the flexibility to focus on the HE sector, which has not shrunk. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that these changes have prevented his firm from hiring and training more staff.
The impact in numbers
In October 2015, the city experienced the closure of Anglo European School of English, one of the renowned schools operating in Bournemouth since 1971[iv]. It may be difficult to accurately measure the damage of such closures, but the international students’ contribution to the local economy was estimated to be £300 million in 2016, with a 20% reduction from previous year, which represented a £60 million loss[v]. 2017 figures are not yet released, but the most optimistic estimations consider an additional 10% reduction[vi].
Winds of change?
A poll released in October 2016 revealed that 66% of adults recognised that international students have a positive impact on the local economies where they study in, 59% agreed that that economic contribution helps create jobs and 24% do not consider international students coming to study in this country as migrants[vii]. Local MP Connor Burns has repeatedly declared that students should not be consider as migrants but visitors, and so do other MPs. According to a note released on The Guardian this January[viii], there are six MPs urging the PM to remove international students from the immigration figures, and it is likely to come under greater pressure this spring when MPs lay down an amendment to the immigration bill. Despite the support to this move from senior cabinet members such as Boris Johnson, Theresa May remains opposed to any change. She has argued that it would weaken the defences against higher immigration and that voters would see it as a fraud. However, last year exit checks showed that less than 5,000 international students overstay instead the 100,000 a year the Prime Minister claimed[ix].
An interesting insight from this report is that five out of the six people interviewed, preferred to remain anonymous. These five people are immigrants, one American married to a British citizen, one French and three Venezuelan naturalized British. Why should these “foreigners” be afraid of being identified? They are legally stablished in this country, working and paying taxes as any other resident, but still they do not feel welcomed or even worst, they feel insecure.
Is there any good immigration?
Juan came to UK with his wife Gladys to study English in 2003. The migration policies of the moment allowed them to work 20 hours a week while studying. This way, they managed to stay here all the time needed to acquire proficiency level.
Juan had a managerial undergraduate background and wanted to study a MBA. After 16 months studying English, Juan took the IELTS and proceed with the university and visa applications successfully and enrolled in Bournemouth University. He worked in a fast food restaurant while studying English and the MBA. His wife, Gladys, is a dentist. Once she finished studying English, she started to work as dental assistant, as that was the most she could do with her university degree.
Gregorio arrived in 2003 to UK to study English. He already had a MBA from his home country but felt that the lack of a good level of English language was preventing him from developing a successful career. While studying English he started to work in a fast food shop and met Juan. They became very good friends.
By the time Juan was about to finish the MBA, Gregorio was tired of studying English. Neither of them wanted to go back to their home countries. Gregorio was a European citizen, which made it easier to settle legally. However, Juan was not and had to go through all the migration policies to understand what he needed to do to get the resident status. They both liked the business they were working in very much and saw the potential of being more than just employees. They created a company and invested in a fast food shop of the franchise brand they were working in. Two business minds working together with strong determination to succeed. After two years of hard work, they were ready to invest in a new shop. From then on, they have been growing, opening more restaurants, and even diversifying their business beyond fast food.
Today, Juan and Gregorio, two immigrants, give employment to 250 people in their 16 shops around Dorset. They would not have been able to be the protagonists of this wonderful success story with the current immigration policies that do not allow English language students to work amidst other new regulations. They would not have stayed here that long as neither had saved enough money to invest in the first shop. They simply would not have the chance to prove their value and the value of good immigration.
Immigration policies should be written attempting to attract and retain people like Juan and Gregorio, people that contribute to the country’s economy and that provide more than what they cost. The British Council in Singapore declares that their vision is “that the future for the UK depends on people of all cultures living and working together on foundations of education, mutual understanding, respect and trust”[x]. This means that cultural differences should be welcome as a way to enrich our own cultural heritage. Immigration policies must stop people that come to this country to take advantage of the welfare state and give nothing in return, and they should guarantee that those contributing to the nation’s prosperity and well-being are warmly welcomed.
Maria Luisa Feo La Cruz
[i] ICEF Monitor, 2017. ‘UK ELT declines for third straight year’ ICEF Monitor [online], 17 May 2017. Available from http://monitor.icef.com/2017/05/uk-elt-declines-third-straight-year/ [Accessed 13 March 2018]
[ii] The migration observatory at the University of Oxford, 2017. ‘Who counts as a migrant? Definitions and their consequences’. The Migration Observatory [online], 11 January 2017. Available from: http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/who-counts-as-a-migrant-definitions-and-their-consequences/ [Accessed 13 March 2018]
[iv] Marsh, N., 2015. ‘UK ELT: Three more school closures underline tense trading conditions’. The Pie News [online], 5 November 2015. Available from https://thepienews.com/news/uk-elt-three-more-school-closures-underline-tense-trading-conditions/ [Accessed 20 March 2018]
[v] Jane Reader, 2017. ‘EU referendum blamed for plummeting numbers of overseas students’. Daily Echo [online], 3 February 2017. Available from: http://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/news/15050247.Brexit_has_already_cost_Bournemouth___60m_in_lost_language_students__says_study/ [Accessed 14 March 2018]
[vi] Interview with Mr. Steve King, Chair of RALSA
[vii] The Guardian, 2016. ‘Most Britons do not see foreign students as immigrants, survey shows’. The Guardian [online], 14 October 2016. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/oct/14/most-britons-do-not-see-foreign-students-as-immigrants-survey-shows [Accessed 17 March 2018]
[viii] The Guardian, 2018. ‘PM urged to leave international students out of migration figures’. The Guardian [online], 4 January 2018. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/jan/04/tory-rebels-urge-may-remove-international-students-net-migration-figures [Accessed 15 March 2018]
[ix] The Week, 2018. ‘Theresa May faces immigration defeat on foreign students’. The Week [online], 2 January 2018. Available from: http://www.theweek.co.uk/90652/may-faces-immigration-defeat-on-foreign-students
[x] British Council, 2017. Vision and Mision [online] https://www.britishcouncil.sg/about/vision-mission [Accessed 21 March 2018]
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