UK: English language student numbers are down by th ousands as immigrants are ‘priced out of the market’

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Oct 2 12:55:29 UTC 2007

*Fees policy hits Esol enrolment

Joseph Lee
*Published: 28 September 2007

  *English language student numbers are down by thousands as immigrants are
'priced out of the market'
The number of immigrants learning English at many colleges has collapsed
following the introduction of fees,* FE Focus* can reveal. September
enrolment figures and projections for the academic year suggest some
colleges will see numbers for English for speakers of other languages drop
by as much as 50 per cent. While numbers of Esol students have held up in
some of the poorest areas – fee subsidies continue for people on benefit –
the hardest hit colleges have lost hundreds and even thousands of

Discussions with colleges which responded to an *FE Focus* snapshot
enrolment survey this week provided a clear picture of immigrants having
been simply "priced out of the market", as one principal said. The drop in
Esol enrolments is expected to continue through the year, despite schemes
such as flexible time­tabling and lessons in the work­place for the rapidly
growing population from eastern Europe. New rules on fees mean free English
classes are now only available for migrants on benefits or those receiving
tax credits. Oaklands College in Hertfordshire recruited 220 Esol students
last year. This year it is expecting half that number.

Two of its level 2 (GCSE equivalent) classes at had 35 students each last
year but have now attracted just seven people. Some other classes may have
to be postponed. Rob Reynolds, head of languages at the college, said: "I
thought we would take a hit of a third. I think really it's much worse.
We've been taking a hit of about 50 per cent."  At Ealing, Hammersmith and
West London College, the country's biggest provider of Esol courses, student
numbers are expected to be down by nearly 30 per cent. Last year it had
8,000 recruits.

Amarjit Basi, the deputy principal, said potential students had been put off
by having to pay fees. "But our biggest concern is for those who can't pay,
learners from vulnerable communities such as some of those from Africa, Asia
and refugee communities," he said. "These are the learners most in need of
English language classes, but without networks and support and finances.

"There are quite clearly learners who want to contribute to the economy and
secure work, but this is a significant barrier to them."

Other colleges have told FE Focus that they expect enrolment falls ranging
from 17 to 40 per cent.

Before ministers decided to cap funding for Esol, an estimated 500,000
people a year took classes.

But falling enrolment is not universal. In some areas – from Manchester to
Birmingham to Tower Hamlets in the East End of London – colleges reported
their student numbers had remained consistent, partly because there were
enough immigrants on benefits or claiming tax credits taking up free places.

Many of the hardest hit immigrants are those in low-paid jobs, often in
retail and hospitality with responsibility for communicating with customers.
Yet the very fact they are in such jobs can render them ineligible for free
Esol tuition.

One head of Esol said: "We are able to fill our classes. But there will be
people coming through the door who you know have a legitimate need to speak
English but, because they are earning a little bit too much, we can't offer
them free tuition."

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