Like many people in the world of ELT I was shocked and disappointed by the results of the EU referendum this morning.  Like many people in our position, my wife and I have been sitting on the sofa in our house in central Portugal,  in a state of bleak disbelief struggling to understand both how the British people could have made this choice and of course, what the ramifications are for us.

We are asking ourselves questions like:  Should we stay here?  If we want to stay here, how do we go about it?  Should we go somewhere else?  Should we return to the UK?  Do we even want to return to the UK?  How on earth are we going to make that happen if we do?

There is a lot of anxiety in our thinking, a lot of uncertainty and a lot of speculation, none of which adds up to anything substantive and none of which is particularly helpful to us, or anyone else in a similar situation.  My hope in this post is to try and look at what the decision means for ELT and thereby to help myself, and all those teachers around Europe in similar situations, figure out what this really means for us.


ELT in the UK

Some 26,500 jobs in the UK are directly linked to ELT (English UK, 2015), though some of these are indirect and supported by student spending in the UK, rather than say, teaching jobs or centre administration staff.  650,000 students come to the UK to study annually, the majority from Italy and Spain with 53% of students coming from European countries.  It seems likely that these figures are going to drop, partly because of the economic uncertainty and recessionary conditions, but also partly because if there is no automatic right to travel and study in the UK, EU citizens will need to pay out £328 on a Tier 4 student visa just to come to the country.  This is obviously speculation and it may not be impacted, this depends on the conditions that the EU requires as part of any renegotiated trade deals.  However, given the focus on migration to the UK in the referendum debate, stricter control over borders and visa issuing seems likely.

The 2011 Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) report analysed the impact of changes in immigration controls on Tier 4 visas and suggested it would lead to a 10% reduction in the number of tier 4 visas granted and a consequent loss of £203 million per year (rising to £268 million by 2025).  Extrapolating these trends to take into account the additional drop in visas issued to EU students, this suggests the UK ELT industry could lose around £493 million a year.

This is likely to have a significant effect on the number of centres offering language teaching, the incomes and revenues that centres are likely to realise, of subsequently of course, on the number of jobs, with the possible loss of 2,500 jobs in the sector.  This in turn is likely to drive wages down because of the lower demand (and a need for employers to reduce costs) and because of the increased supply of teachers looking for work.


ELT in Europe

94% of secondary students in EU countries study English (Eurostat, 2016).  This is unlikely to change any time soon, mostly I suspect because of inertia.  Schools and education systems have invested so much time and energy in creating the materials and training the teachers that it may take some time before other languages gain in primacy.  This is the state sector though, and the private sector may be different.

It is difficult to see though, the levels of demand for English language training sustaining themselves in the private sector when much of the motivation to learn the language is gone.  With no freedom of movement into the UK to live and work, students like many of mine who are learning a language because they want to work overseas, may choose other destinations and languages.  This is speculation though, and English is still the language of business and international communication, so the impact may be mitigated.

There is likely to be a much larger impact on recruitment on teachers.  Companies and organisations operating within the EU must, first and foremost, hire workers with the right to work within the EU.  In other words, EU citizens.  If an employer wants to hire a non-EU worker, they first have to prove that they cannot find anyone in Europe who can fulfil the vacancy.  The implications of this are simply that a large number of UK nationals who are currently teaching in Europe are likely to find themselves legally unable to continue in their roles.  Brexit may, inadvertently, have effectively settled the NS / NNS debate (at least in Europe).

If you are a UK national between 17 and 30, you might be able to qualify for a Temporary Worker / Working holiday visa and then teach on short term contracts here and there.  For everybody else there are the traditional routes to consider:  marrying into the EU or for those who have been there long enough, applying for citizenship.

What happens next?

Who knows…

It’s probably still too early for the full ramifications of the decision to be apparent.  David Cameron has said he’s resigning and that it will be the job of the next Prime Minister to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, thus triggering the two year period of UK exit.  Boris Johnson has said there is “no rush” to leave.  EU leaders have called for the UK to get on with it and avoid “unnecessarily prolonging uncertainty”.  It is quite a strange situation – everything has changed and yet nothing has.

Where does this leave me?

Speaking personally?  It leaves me depressed, angry and morose.  My options are (1) to apply for Portuguese citizenship and to try and continue life here in Portugal, (2) to try and sell the house and uproot the family and move back to the UK to compete for an increasingly smaller pool of jobs at increasingly lower wages.  Unless anyone can think of another option…?  Does anyone know if Canada is hiring?


Economic Impact of ELT in the UK – English UK, 2015.

Estimating the Value to the UK of Education Exports – Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, 2011.

Foreign language learning statistics – Eurostat, 2016.

Tier 4 (General) student, 2016.