Market Analysis
The negative impact of Brexit counterbalanced by the positive effects of a weaker pound have resulted in a mixed year for UK English schools, reports Gillian Evans.

There is no denying that 2016 was a challenging year for the UK English language teaching market. The anticipation of Brexit - the UK's referendum vote to leave the European Union - influenced the market before the results were announced in June and well after it. "A nerve-wracking moment for us was the week around the Brexit referendum, when everything stood still waiting for the results and then overcoming the aftershock," recounts Magdalena Oziminska, Managing Director of Link School English in London.



Indeed, the aftershock of the UK's decision to leave the EU is still rumbling. "There is a perception that the UK is no longer welcoming to foreigners," says Kevin McNally, Managing Director of the Torquay International School "Managing relationships with agents has taken more time and effort."


Many sources report of a dent in confidence in the UK as a study destination. "Brexit has hit long-term courses more than short courses as there is a lack of confidence in the direction of the UK's policy towards overseas students," asserts Norman Renshaw, Managing Director of InTuition Languages While demand for long-term programmes has taken a battering, the short-term market has held its own, with Magdalena reporting an increased number of enrolments from European Union countries. "Some of our students are rushing their holiday and study in London 'before it gets more difficult', as they say," she reports. "Apparently, uncertainty of a long-term future is creating a strong short-term incentive." Course trends have also shifted with some sources noting a decrease in executive English and Cambridge exam programmes and an increase in young learner and family courses.



The post-Brexit market was not all gloom and doom, however, as a sudden drop in the value of the pound resulted in a spike in student numbers. After a slow start to 2016, Norman reports, "The fall in the currency from July onwards has helped enormously." Even so, for many schools, the "devaluing happened too late to have much effect in 2016", says Kevin.


Hannah Lindsay from St Giles International also mentions the detrimental effects of the strong pound at the beginning of the year, which made other destinations such as Ireland and Australia more appealing. But it was not only the strong pound that had a negative impact on the 2016 market. "The combination of strong home currencies and significant political unrest in many of our key markets - for example, Brazil - made it a particularly challenging year," says Hannah. "The decline in Korea also affected us in 2016."



Despite mass media reports of visa entry problems, anecdotal evidence from language schools suggests that UK visa refusals were no worse in 2016 than in previous years. However, when schools do experience visa refusals it can have a huge impact. For example, Torquay International School experienced a high rate of visa refusals last year - mainly from the Middle East and North Africa region and Central Asia - which cost the school UK£65,000 (US$78,970) in lost revenue.


Fast forward to 2017 and the picture is looking slightly more rosy thanks to the welcome boost to student numbers from the weak pound. But, warns Kevin, "Should the euro weaken again, we will see this year as a spike, without sustainable growth." Many educators, looking at the situation across the Atlantic, believe there may be "some washback from the Trump election with clients choosing the UK over the USA", says Neil Harvey, Managing Director of the English Studio in London. Magdalena agrees, saying, "In the light of the recent travel ban and the overall political situation in the USA, we expect that [the USA] may be perceived as unfriendly, more difficult to enter or even less safe. As a result, other destinations, including the UK will benefit from this."





Sarah Cooper, Chief Executive of English UK:


"We are currently collating data for 2016 but we expect it to show a third consecutive year of decline, in both numbers and weeks. The first half of the year saw a strong pound and political uncertainty. However, the post-referendum weak pound boosted sales in the last quarter, supported by product innovation by members."




79 schools participated

115,217 total number of students at the schools in 2016

541,520 total number of estimated student weeks at these schools in 2016

Thank you to the following schools who participated in our survey:
Abbey College,; ABC Languages; Academy SJW,; Alpha Omega College,; Anglo Ltd,; Ardmore Language Schools,; Babylon School of English,; BLS English,; Brighton Language College,; Broadstairs English Centre,; Brunel Language Centre, Brunel University,; Burlington School of English,; Cambridge Centre for Languages,; Celtic English Academy,; Churchill House School,; Country Cousins,; Delfin English School,; Edwards Language School Sprachcaffe,; Elizabeth Johnson Organisation,; English for Less Language Centre,; English in Margate,; English Language Centre Brighton and Hove,; English Language Centre Bristol,; English Language House,; English Language Training,; ETC International College,; Exeter College,; Exsportise,; Frances King School of English,; Globe English Centre,; Gloucestershire College,; Guildford College Group,; ILS English,; Interlanguage London,; International House London,; Kilgraston School,; Language Centre, University of the Arts,; Language in Action,; Language Link,; Language Studies International,; Lewis School of English,; Lila*,; Link School of English,; Living Learning English,; LTC Eastbourne,; LVC London School of English,; Melton College,; Millfield School,; Milton Keynes College,; More than English,; Mount Mill Hill International,; Mountlands Language School,; Norwich Institute for Language Education (NILE),; Northumbria School of English,; Northumbria University Modern languages,; Oxford English Academy,; Oxford Spires Language School,; Pilgrims Language Courses,; Pilgrims Young Learners,; Robertson Languages International,; St George International,; SERC International School of English,; Sheffield College,; Skola English Study Tours,; Sprachcaffe Languages Plus Brighton,; St Brelade's College,; St Giles International,; Sul Language Schools,; Sussex Downs College,; Torquay International School,; TSA International School,; Tti School of English,; Varsity International,; University of Liverpool English Language Centre,; WE Bridge Academy,;; Wimbledon School of English,; York St John University,


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