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What a Labour victory would mean for UK ELT

The short answer: not much.

As the UK takes to the polls today, various news outlets predict a ‘landslide’ victory for the Labour party. But what would that mean for the ELT sector? We’ve put together a brief rundown of their policies on international students, school fees and teaching contracts.

International students

Labour have not made any particular pledges or promises when it comes to international students, a silence that is disappointing at a time of increasingly hostile attitudes, both in the UK and abroad.

This is in stark contrast to the other parties. The Conservatives have pledged to increase visa fees and even remove the student discount for the Immigration Health Surcharge. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have promised the return of the Erasmus Plus programme, expanding opportunities for young people abroad.

Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, even stated Labour would not remove the ban on dependents for student visas, a policy initially implemented by the Conservatives. This ban has caused significant declines in student recruitment, including an 80% drop in enrolment from the Nigerian market.

Instead, Labour have simply promised to ‘reduce net migration’. There is some suggestion they may exclude international student numbers from the UK’s domestic net migration figures, something that is already implemented in the US, Australia and Canada.

Independent schools

From 2025, Labour have pledged to end the VAT exemption and business rates relief for private schools, sparking some concern over how this may affect independent language schools. However, back in February, Labour clarified that the policy would not affect ELT schools.

‘Labour office’s confirmation that VAT fees won’t affect ELT schools comes as a sigh of relief,’ said Dirk Figureido of Wimbledon School of English.

‘Such measures would severely harm the industry’s vitality in the UK and affect our competitiveness as a language study destination, which is already mistakenly perceived as less affordable compared to other ELT-providing countries.’

Teacher contracts

Labour have pledged to bring an end to ‘exploitative’ zero-hours contracts, which could mean teachers on such contracts may soon be able to receive regularly contracted hours from their employer. However, there is still some speculation over how this will be implemented and how it could affect English teachers.

Analysis from Norton Fulbright suggests:

‘The Labour Party […] will ensure that everyone has the right to a contract that reflects the number of hours they regularly work based on a twelve-week reference period. Labour will also ensure that all workers receive reasonable notice of any change in shifts or working time with compensation that is proportionate to the notice given for any shifts cancelled or curtailed. The Plan does confirm that overtime and fixed-term contracts, including for seasonal work, will not be affected by these proposals.’

What do professionals want from Labour?

Back in April, English UK released their ‘Global language, global connections’ manifesto, outlining their expectations from the next government.

Prior to the pandemic and Brexit, the UK attracted 550,000 ELT students a year, with recovery sitting at around 70% in 2022. English UK want to see the UK return to the leading destination for ELT and have outlined six key policies to achieve their goal:

  1. Expand career-enhancing travel opportunities for young people
  2. Legalise short work placements on all ELT courses
  3. Extend ID card travel for groups of under-18s from the EU
  4. Recognise UK ELT’s accreditation scheme
  5. Increase marketing support for UK ELT
  6. Increase rent-a-room tax relief

The more things stay the same…

Labour’s manifesto is simply titled ‘Change’. However, it seems very little change is actually on the cards for the ELT sector, should Labour be pick of the polls today. Time will surely tell if things can truly get better, or if it will just be more of the same…

What change do YOU want to see over the next five years, and beyond? Comment or get in touch: editor@elgazette.com.

Image courtesy of Samuel Regan Asante
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