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‘The biggest challenge is getting back to growth’

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Matt Salusbury talks to new English UK chief executive Eddie Byers as he welcomes delegates to September’s StudyWorld recruitment fair

What is your career background and how did it lead you here?

I worked for large internationally oriented corporations during my early career before moving into public-sector international promotion agencies, including Visit Scotland. For the last four years before joining English UK I worked for the British Council. That gave me a good understanding of the English language sector and its role because of the British Council’s extensive involvement in and promotion of the industry around the world.

What surprised you most when you started as English UK chief executive?

What stands out for me is the work of the English UK team, the sheer range of activity we undertake as an organisation and the productivity of a small staff in dealing with all of this in a very professional manner. It is an ever-developing sector, and the team does a great job in staying ahead of the issues and helping members to adapt to changes as they happen.

Was there anything that seemed strangely familiar about the English language teaching sector from your work in other sectors?

Yes, having worked for Visit Scotland for six years, I was really struck by the clear links between international education and tourism. In particular I was surprised how little recognition there is of the value of international education to the UK’s tourism industry.

What’s your reaction to immigration minister James Brokenshire’s statement on 57 providers having their highly trusted sponsor status suspended over the Toeic cheating scandal that broke on Panorama this year, and data supplied by Toeic subsequently showing numerous ‘invalid’ or ‘questionable’ results?

English UK is totally committed to the protection of the integrity and reputation of English language teaching in the UK and supports the government’s robust audit of compliance. We are monitoring this situation closely and will continue to work with the government, exam providers, our members and the broader international education sector to ensure any lessons are quickly learned and applied.

We understand that the institutions involved are working closely with the authorities on this, and hope that this proceeds as quickly as possible so that firm conclusions can be made, action taken, and this episode concluded without unnecessary delay.

What do you see as the biggest challenge and biggest opportunity facing your members?

The biggest challenge for our industry is getting it back to growth, not just as a flash in the pan but to create sustained growth on a systematic basis. There are a whole host of opportunities for our members associated with that, ranging from attracting more students to the UK to getting more involved in delivering international education around the world. We will be working with our members to ensure they have every opportunity to take advantage of what the market has to offer.

How important do you see the role of agents being in the future development of the industry?

Agents play a critical role in the English language teaching industry and I anticipate that will continue for the long term. However, it is important that our members both understand and actively manage their marketing activities to ensure they sustain an appropriate balance between agent channels and other routes to market.

If you could give one message to the UK government and especially the Home Office, what would it be and why?

My most important message for the government would be the significance of this industry, in both economic and reputational terms, to the UK. I want to ensure that the government recognises both the value that is being delivered today and the potential for this to grow further in the future.

What are you most looking forward to in your job?

In the short term, I am really looking forward to my first StudyWorld. It’s something to be proud of that English UK runs the world’s oldest and leading student recruitment event, and it’s going to be great to see it in action and meet industry figures from all over the world there.

During my first few months in the job I made it a priority to get to know many of English UK’s members. I really look forward to meeting many more in the coming weeks and months – at StudyWorld and beyond – to ensure that I properly understand the industry and all the different ways it can work and flourish, whether that’s in the smallest private language schools, the largest universities or any of the other places in which it develops and thrives.