Melanie Butler explains why the north of England is no longer a region where overseas students need to be persuaded to opt for
BRIDGING THE GAP Newcastle is one of a number of northern cities that are becoming more popular with foreign students (Courtesy International House Newcastle)
The ‘Northern Powerhouse’ has already arrived on the UK’s English language scene. Britain’s finance minister, or Chancellor of the Exchequer as we so quaintly call him, has plans for a powerhouse, a new industrial and scientific hub, to be created in the north of England, linking the cities which were the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution: Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle. All five cities have seen an increase in their provision of British-Council-accredited language centres over the last ten years.
But where exactly do we mean by the north of England? There are various interpretations, but for the purpose of this EL Gazette feature we mean south of the historic border with Scotland down to the border with Wales in the west and the southern boundaries of Yorkshire, south of Sheffield.
Private language schools in the north were traditionally clustered in the historic towns, such as York, Harrogate and Scarborough – all of which boast schools which are between thirty and fifty years old. In the old northern industrial towns English language teaching was dominated by the universities, many of which, like Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool, were leaders in research in applied linguistics. Further education colleges, such as the Sheffield College, have also had a strong presence in the English language sector for many years. It was the brilliance of Richard Day, founder and former principal of English in Chester (the region’s top-ranked accredited centre) to forge an alliance across the sector and to aggressively promote the north as an EFL destination with the creation of English in the North, now known as English UK North.
The emergence of northern boarding schools such as Stonyhurst and Windermere offering accredited summer schools is another more recent development which has extended the northern brand. The increase in international interest in the universities, powered by initiatives such as the Northern Consortium, has also increased the region’s educational profile.
Many observers believe, however, that it is the worldwide fame of the region’s football teams which is the main reason for the strongest surge in growth – the astonishing flowering of the private-language-school sector in the major towns, particularly Manchester, which fifteen years ago boasted just a couple of accredited schools, and Liverpool, which had none. Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle, where International House held the fort alone for many years, have also seen somewhat slower growth.
The increase in importance of the area can be seen by the eagerness with which the chains have opened schools there: EF, Kaplan and EC in the north-west and CES in Leeds and Harrogate. Indeed Manchester and Liverpool combined now present a language learning hub to rival traditional EFL destinations in the south such as Brighton, Bournemouth and Poole, while the region as a whole probably has a sector the size of Bournemouth and the south-west. Students now actively choose to head north, no longer being persuaded to with promises that Newcastle and Sheffield are actually quite near London but just cheaper.
Cheaper it certainly is, particularly if you take into account the cost of living and of host families, but as can be seen from the value-for-money graph on page 7, although course fees are lower on average, at £12.50 an hour for a short course, there is much less variation of price than in other major regions because almost all centres are in the same price band – between £10 and £15 an hour for a short course. There are fewer schools charging under £10 an hour in the whole of the north than there are in Bournemouth, but there are also fewer charging more than £15. This is an area where getting value for money means choosing the best-quality schools, based on British Council inspection results, because they are unlikely to cost any more than those with below-average scores.
The north of England offers great value for money, as long as you choose the top-performing schools.