Claudia Civinini finds that British teachers working in Europe intend to stay on after Brexit.
Friday 24 June started early for many people – it was the day of the EU referendum result. Awake since the small hours, EU citizens on the islands of the UK and British citizens on the continent of Europe were united by the same worried question: what now? The same uncertainty affects the ELT industry both in the UK and the EU. But while information about the referendum result’s possible damage to the ELT industry in the UK is already plentiful, the consequences within what remains of the EU are not yet clear-cut.
With freedom of movement between the UK and Europe now potentially curtailed, how will the landscape of the industry change for British teachers working in the EU? We asked three such teachers what changes – and challenges – they envisaged in the futures: Corinne from Berlin, Lucy from Amsterdam and Kieran from Barcelona.
No one was expecting the result, although they all had the feeling that it would be close. Corinne said that, apart from her pension having lost quite a lot of value – and having to face persistent questions as to why the Brits decided to vote out – she doesn’t see any other effect at the moment. Lucy also said that it was difficult to judge at the moment – however, she also commented that the referendum has put a lot of stress on herself and her fellow teachers due to the uncertainties they face. Kieran pointed out some of the bureaucratic difficulties that UK nationals may encounter in the EU after Brexit: diminished access to public health care and of course the end of free movement, which could have a great impact on professionals who, like him, travel around Europe to speak at conferences and run teacher training sessions. All three teachers said they wouldn’t move back to the UK and are prepared to apply for citizenship in their current country of residence.
What problems will face UK teachers in the future?
Brexit will cause a headache for teachers that are just ‘travelling through’, said Corinne – possible future visas will make temporary teaching much harder. Kieran hinted at a less concrete difficulty, as UK nationals working in the EU may encounter more negative attitudes. ‘The reputation of the UK as a progressive, tolerant and meritocratic society has been irredeemably damaged in the eyes of the majority of EU citizens. Many of them will now see Britain and British people as more insular, intolerant and small-minded.’
Browsing expat teachers’ blogs, we found that many were worried that it would be more difficult for UK teachers to find a job in the EU after Brexit as, if they eventually need a visa to work there, they will lose their advantage over, for example, US or Australian teachers.
Our teachers didn’t seem to be worried about that. Both Corinne and Lucy pointed out that some students prefer and actually actively seek teachers from the UK – the fascination with the British accent could play a part in this, but it’s not the only element. Kieran believed it was unlikely that UK workers would need a visa to work in the EU – however, Maltese and Irish teachers will surely gain more popularity, along with non-native speaker teachers from other EU countries.
What will Brexit mean for the ELT industry?
According to Corinne, since teaching while travelling will become more difficult, only professional, qualified teachers will be able to work legally in the EU and this will raise the standards of the industry. Lucy also saw a beneficial effect on the ELT industry in Europe, as more students could choose to study English in other European countries instead of applying for a visa for the UK. Kieran argued that, although Brexit will have a more dramatic impact on the ELT industry within the UK, its influence will be also felt in the remaining EU in some parts of the private sector – while students will continue learning English at school, adult learners might be less interested. ‘If EU citizens can no longer freely study or work in the UK, their motivation for studying English will be gone,’ he commented.
What piece of advice would they give to other UK teachers working in the EU?
Wait and see, said Lucy. After all, as Kieran put it, the ramifications of Brexit for UK nationals working in the EU won’t be clear for some time. However, they should be prepared for any eventuality. How? Apply for citizenship of the country where you live and work. Corinne also said it would be wise for UK nationals to apply for UK citizenship for their children born in the EU. She’ll do that for her 12-year-old son, so he’ll have the option of studying and working in the UK in the future. ‘Whether it will still be attractive to work and study in the UK in the future, I don’t know,’ she commented. ‘Probably not.’
Is there a silver lining to the Brexit cloud?
With the pound falling in value against the euro, a brief ‘Brexit bounce’ is anticipated within UK EFL, but there’s no silver lining at all for Kieran: ‘Brexit is a disaster for the UK on many levels – financially, socially, culturally and educationally.’ Corinne said that there could be a silver lining for Europe, but not necessarily for Britain, while Lucy responded with what many secretly wish for: ‘It might never happen?’
As we went to press in early August, William Hill, the UK’s biggest chain of bookmakers, had just cut its odds on the UK still being in the EU on 1 January 2020 to only 6/4 – you’d win less than one and a half times your money if you won such a bet. So UK-based bookies at least regard Brexit never actually happening as a feasible scenario.
Thank you to: Kieran Donaghy (www.film-english.com), Corinne Wilhelm (www.bytesizedenglish.com) and Lucy Burns (www.bltc.nl)