What could the Irish government do to support the ELE sector?
English Language Education (ELE) is a thriving industry in Ireland. English Language Schools range from small family-owned businesses to satellite schools owned by global companies. The Irish government’s need for support and ring-fenced funding continues to grow, as the costs of running an English Language School rise.
The ELE sector has historically occupied a precarious position with the Irish government. Deemed ill-fitted for the Department of Education and the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, there is an opportunity to develop a progressive relationship with the newly established Department for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.
In advance of Budget 2024, Marketing English in Ireland have submitted a pre-budget 2024 document requesting support for the sector in a variety of areas.
Why should the Irish government support the ELE sector?
Ireland is renowned for its high-quality English Language Teaching, attracting students from 112 countries. It is an industry that has made a strong recovery since the Covid-19 pandemic, with student numbers returning to 88% of pre-pandemic levels. For the industry to reach its full potential, it requires additional support from the Irish government.
The benefits reaped from the growth of the ELE industry reaches a wider scope that school owners and direct stakeholders alone. English language students immerse themselves in local communities. We estimated that the ELE sector is worth €1.183 billion, combining direct fee income and total gross expenditures of overseas students. Support from the Irish government will create an even stronger ELE industry, which in turn will add additional value to the country’s economy.
Our 68 schools are based all over Ireland, in cities, town and remote areas. Students support regional tourism, retail, and hospitality sectors, from museums and galleries to bus companies and restaurants. The ELE industry adds value to a diverse range of businesses, particularly rural economies which are additionally vulnerable to rising costs.
Ireland was ranked as the eleventh most globalised country in 2022. The contribution of international education to this ranking is not limited to economic value. English language students integrate into the daily life of Irish society. An example of this is the workplace as unlike in the other ELE study destinations, students can work alongside their studies. Students can connect with Irish people and people of a variety of nationalities while working. The same can be said for students living with host families, who temporarily become part of an Irish family. Sharing of cultural practices, ideas and experiences creates a multicultural society that is more outward facing and inclusive.
English language students leave Ireland with positive memories and a great connection to the nation. In 2018, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar highlighted the importance of these links with Ireland himself when he shared a photo with Luxembourg’s prime minister Xavier Bettel, Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sánchez and Austria’s chancellor Sebastian Kurz. What these three global leaders had in common was that they spent time in Ireland learning English as children. If the Irish government can recognise the cultural significance of a thriving ELE sector, this should be reflected in their support of the industry.
ELE is an often-underestimated element of international education in Ireland. In the DEFHRIS Statement of Strategy 2021-2023, ELE was not explicitly mentioned. It is hoped that the launch of the upcoming International Education Strategy and the International Education Mark will result in greater focus on this sector. Our pre-budget submission asks for specific and measurable support.