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EU special: Into the Unknown

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The only thing that is certain about Brexit, is that everything is uncertain, writes Melanie Butler.

This time next year, Britain will no longer be a member of the European Union. Right now, that is all we really know for sure.

Will Britain remain a member of Erasmus? Will EU students still be able to study at UK universities for local prices? Will English even remain an EU working language?

After all, the official language of Malta is Maltese, while for Ireland it’s Irish. With no monolingual English-speaking countries left in the Union, won’t French and German grab the opportunity to dump the language?

It’s all too early to tell.

What we do know is that so far there has been no decrease in demand for English language courses in Europe. Nor for courses taught in English.

The number of EU students applying to study at degree level in the UK actually went up two per cent this year, although as we report, to judge by internet searches there is a lot less interest going forward.

In our special, the British Council’s Chris Brandwood confirms that there is no evidence of a decline in English for education or for work, although there is a decline in the number of school age children across the continent.

What the British Council has found is an increased level of interest in technology-driven solutions to English language learning needs, although the dropout rates remain very high. This is not only about the technology, but about the pedagogy it uses.

Meanwhile the demand for English language exams remains high, as LanguageCert’s Henry Tolley reveals in his country by country analysis (click here to read). He highlights the growing government support for the use of language tests – and language travel programmes like the Pon.

Not, however, that government-funded courses are as popular as you might expect with language school owners in English-speaking countries, as we reveal here.

Not only do governments expect the height of luxury when it comes to accommodation but they have stringent requirements about class sizes, classroom hours and, in the case of the Pon, exam pass rates.

To make matters worse, there is a surplus of schools in Ireland, Malta, the UK and now Cyprus. This means the agents put in charge of placing the students on behalf of governments and state schools are asking ever higher commission rates.

So what happens if, after Brexit, European governments treat the UK as a third country, like the US? This would then lead them to channel the state-funded language travel courses to the remaining three countries. Although Ireland is the largest EFL destination per capita, it is too small to take the overflow. Malta and Cyprus are even smaller.

The supply of schools for government programmes would plummet and unless demand drops too, language schools would find themselves able to command much higher prices from agents.

Could the same thing happen with the supply of native speaker teachers?

If Brexit means British teachers are subject to the same visa restrictions as those currently in place for non-EU citizens, surely fewer young Brits will fancy a couple of years teaching in Madrid or Milan? After all, they can make twice as much money in China or Vietnam.

Possibly. But as Declan Carey points out, there are already nearly as many Americans as Brits working in the Czech Republic. Some countries, it seems, offer such a great way of life, and it is so easy to get work, that teachers will flock there, whatever the visa restrictions.