Brexit, Immigration, and English Language Teaching

Before 2016, June 24th had always had positive connotations for me. It’s Midsummer. It’s my birthday. It’s Lionel Messi’s birthday. A good day.

That is, until this year. Nigel Farage declared June 24th 2016 to be Britain’s new “Independence Day”, in celebration of the fact that the EU Referendum held the day before had just returned a result of “Leave”.

Personal politics aside, the mood in my school that day was pretty sombre. A sizeable chunk of our business comes from the EU: would we still see these students in Manchester in the years ahead? Others were panicking over future plans to teach in Spain, Italy, Eastern Europe: would they still be able to go and work in the EU?

The Prime Minister had resigned, the Pound was in freefall, it seemed a mess.

After that crazy period over the summer, things seemed to have calmed a little. The economy has stabilised and indeed is even performing better than expected. The sky didn’t fall in.

By and large, we’ve just carried on as normal. As the Government hadn’t begun negotiating an exit, there is little else we could have done. But the lingering worries have remained, and with the news this week that the Government plans to help meet their target to bring down overall immigration by halving the number of international students admitted into the country, it’s clear that people working in the EFL industry have to start thinking about contingencies.

According to industry group EnglishUK, the English language teaching industry is worth £1.2bn each year to the UK economy, and supports around 25,000 jobs. And before Brexit, this was growing: students numbers are up, with in excess of 500,000 coming to these shores to learn our language.

All of this is in excess of the reported £10bn contribution that international students bring to the UK economy.

In many ways the ELT industry will not be affected by the proposed changes, which relate to university students only. Many students stay in the UK for far shorter periods of time, and have no intention of staying on the UK beyond that, having families and careers to return to.

However, a good chunk of students do want to stay here and study, preparing for IELTS tests and attending pre-sessional courses. If we lose this business, the knock-on effects on the industry will be huge.

In addition, we don’t yet know what relationship we will have with the EU after Brexit takes place. If freedom of movement is severely restricted, we could lose short-term EU students to schools in the Republic of Ireland, Malta, or indeed elsewhere. Big schools might close their underperforming UK a schools and relocate inside the EU to boost their appeal. This would be devastating.

Furthermore, Brexit has intensified the growing climate of fear and intimidation towards foreigners. Even if we do preserve enough business, learners may just find it too uncomfortable to come here to study.

This would be a real shame. I know first hand the positive effect ELT has on promoting British culture around the world, and encouraging people to look back fondly on their time spent studying in a Britain. This has been shown to have a positive effect on business and cultural relationships down the line, as Britain becomes a preferred partner for import and export of goods and services.

There is nothing the ELT industry, the university sector, or anybody else can do about Brexit. The people have spoken. But we can work to ensure that our voice is heard, and make sure that when the Government and the EU finally sit down next year to negotiate the UK’s exit, the issues affecting the survival of our industry and our livelihoods are taken into consideration.

If, as the supporters claim, Brexit should be viewed as a positive step, then we have to seize our opportunity to ensure Britain stays open to the language students of the world.


For more information about the facts and figures of the ELT industry’s contribution to the UK economy, please visit this page:


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