Young woman reads Oxford English Dictionary
English will remain the lingua franca. Photo © Pixabay, adapted from the original

May 2018

New evidence suggests that English will continue to be the lingua franca in the EU after Brexit. 

New British Council research gives an insight into anticipated levels of demand, market size, and market characteristics for English language learning in Europe by 2025. The report aims to stimulate discussion around the opportunities which the UK English Language Teaching sector can leverage in the future.

One of the key findings of the report is that, post-Brexit, English will continue to be the lingua franca in Europe. European governments recognise the importance of English for cross-border trade and international competition. Most have introduced educational policies and invested in measures to improve English proficiency among their populations. The main drivers for the demand for English go far beyond the UK. English is the language of the USA, of international business and trade, and the language that emerging large economies are using to engage with the world. This is expected to be far more important to the future demand for English in Europe than is the fall-out from Brexit, which is not expected to have any significant impact on the demand for the language across the continent. 

English tuition and proficiency exams are big business for the UK. The market for students studying English in the UK is dominated by students from Europe - around 75% of the total. These are traditionally the bulk of the private sector English Language Teaching (ELT) market, constituting approximately 500,000 students in 2017 – an increase of 14%, and more than the total number of international students in Higher Education in the UK - making a clear valuable contribution to the UK economy. This is estimated to be worth £2.1 billion in revenue for the UK [English UK, 2016], and to support more than 35,000 jobs. It is expected that there will continue to be strong demand for ELT from school age learners. 

The continued expected demand for English is good news for the UK. Yet the report shows that various other factors are combining to reduce demand significantly to 2025 and beyond. These include decreasing and ageing populations across the continent, as well as the growth of digital solutions to language learning, which pose potential threats to the market. Increasing consumer demand for personalisation and customisation, a common theme in our digital age, poses threats to traditional classroom models of teaching. The report recommends synergies between education technology and English language providers to stay ahead of the curve. To maintain the continued viability of the UK’s English Language businesses, they will have to adjust to the changing European market - and focus more on the booming demand for the English language from other parts of the world.

Sarah Rolfe, English Project Manager, English and Exams, British Council 

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