November 29, 2023

UK ELT competitors are working together to find affordable accommodation for visiting students as demand outstrips supply in key language teaching cities.

“There is a problem with a lack of accommodation and host families,” Sam Bufton of Bell English told The PIE. English language providers will need to rethink their accommodation processes, he suggested.

“We’re going to have to recruit people.” [hosts]we will have to pay more accommodation up front and probably take it for a longer period of time,” he said.

“Whereas before accommodation providers have allowed language schools to do it adhoc now, they have a demand from universities to take it for the full nine months, all in advance. If we want access to these rooms, these conditions now become the same.”

This would mean more risk for language schools, he continued, because ELTs traditionally do not pay for accommodation from around September to August in advance.

“Language schools don’t do that, so it’s a risk. It’s the worst of both worlds, really. You can’t get volume if you don’t take risks in accommodation. If you don’t take the risk in accommodation, you can’t meet the demand,” he said.

Andrew Ballam-Davies of Hosts International told The PIE that during the pandemic hosts have converted vacant spaces into offices. The move to hybrid work means that some have not returned to offer accommodation to language learners.

“The guests were also afraid that strangers would be in the house [during the pandemic]” he said – a problem that is beginning to change.

“You can’t get volume unless you take risk in accommodation”

Homeowners are realizing, especially during the cost of living crisis, the “significant” financial gain from hosting international students, he said.

Other PIEs he spoke to suggested that the wider sector needs to rethink the perception of host accommodation.

“[Hosts] should not be considered a ‘cheaper option’,” said one stakeholder.

The British language sector is not the only one suffering from a lack of accommodation. PIE reported on a shortage of homestays in Canada that hit early 2022 enrollment.

Ireland is also in the midst of a housing crisis.

“There is not enough accommodation for the number of people coming to Ireland,” Justin Quinn of CES told The PIE during StudyWorld in London. “Over the next few years it will even out.”

“We’re all adapting to what we have to do.” We are taking more residential beds and investing more in accommodation, investing more in student residences. It’s an expensive investment, a long-term investment, but we’re doing it and hopefully it will pay off in the years to come.”

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