Friendly people, vibrant university towns and a good international mix of students make the North of England a great place to study English, writes Melanie Butler.
Twenty years ago, there were just two accredited language schools in Manchester and just one accredited university.
Today there are nineteen English UK members in the North of England’s largest city, including all three universities.
The growth of EFL in its largest city is mirrored across the region. So what makes the North so special?
For many students it is best known for the excellence of its football teams. English and football courses are also a huge favourite, as well as its universities.
But the real drivers are price, quality and friendliness.
The cost of living is just much cheaper. Living in Manchester costs 12.5 per cent less than in London, according to the numbeo.com website. That figure rises to 16 per cent in Leeds and an astonishing 24 per cent in Liverpool.
This price advantage is most clearly seen in the cost of accommodation, which is 20 to 30 per cent cheaper. Add to that the open, friendly reputation of the people and it’s easy to see why local host families are a particular draw.
Small wonder, then, that an increasing number of upmarket language school chains have opened in the North: EC, EF and Kaplan in the North West, Irish-owned CES in the North East and British Study Centres on both sides of the Pennines, the range of hills and mountains that run down the centre of the region.
The emergence of the chains and the increasing number of universities and further education colleges opening their language centres to EFL students have helped push up the quality of courses.
Based on the British Council inspection reports, accredited centres in the North of England are, on average, better than those in London and South East England, and come in just below those in the East of England.
Also, Manchester comes in ahead of London, Brighton and Bournemouth. The reason is simple: more and more qualified teachers are moving north because they are attracted by the cheaper cost of living and the wide range of employers, as much as students are.
European students looking to avoid being taught in classes hosting large numbers of students who speak their same language would do well to head north. The EU does not dominate in this region as it was first discovered by students from the Middle East and East Asia.
And the range of locations available in the northern regions offer something for everybody. There is a bouquet of vibrant student cities such as Newcastle and Sheffield, for a start. Also on the list are historic cathedral towns like York and Chester, with their local universities. English language students can enjoy the famous spa town of Harrogate, the picturesque seaside resort of Scarborough and the extraordinary landscape of the Lake District – they really have a wealth of choice.
And, perhaps contrary to expectations, when you look at the crime statistics all over the UK, you will see that the North is comparatively safe. According to numbeo.com, crime levels in Chester are very low, they are low in Sheffield and moderate in both Newcastle and Liverpool.
The most surprising thing about the North, in fact, is that it is not better known among the schools and agents involved in putting together group courses for European teenagers.
After all, this region offers low prices, friendly people and high safety levels.
There is a wide range of high-quality courses offered by every kind of provider, from language schools and state colleges to universities, as well as from the region’s famous boarding schools.
And these courses are available in almost every kind of location you can think of.
And the North has one added advantage: it’s the one place in England where European students can be pretty sure that the student body will not be almost entirely made up of people who speak their language.
The famous Northern poet and comedian, John Shuttleworth, once made a film examining the belief that the further north you go in England, the friendlier the people.
The name of the film says it all: ‘It’s nice up North.’