Will Brexit impact ELT publishing?

On 23rd June 2016, the Brexit bombshell hit. Having been a key member state of the EU for more than 40 years, the implications of withdrawing on trade within and outside the UK were unknown. What would the ramifications be for the ELT publishing industry?

  • Subject:ELT/ESL

  • Reading Time:5-10 minutes

Almost three years since the result was announced and, at the time of writing, with a deadline of 31st October in place, a state of uncertainty around the consequences of Brexit remains.

The effects of Brexit are already being experienced by ELT publishers – as a global industry, the extreme fluctuations in currency in the lead up to the UK’s exit are already having an impact. Export and import with European countries will likely become more difficult, with the implication being that UK-based ELT publishers may focus activity on countries outside of the EU – this in turn would likely impact large ELT markets like Spain, Poland and Italy. With the Publishing Association warning last year that Brexit could damage the UK publishing industry’s record-breaking export business, as well as publishing news sites detailing ‘disastrous implications’ for the industry, you may feel that shutting up shop and emigrating is your only option. However, not everyone feels the same, including some leading voices in the industry.

The panel discussion ‘UK international education after Brexit: planning ahead for a bright future’ at the English UK ELT Conference in London this summer provided an alternative view, with positive messages for ELT publishing. With the enormous demand for English (15 million teachers and 1.25 billion students worldwide), smart businesses should be thinking ahead to creating new types of products and services and identifying new markets. The combination of innovative thinking from publishers and the support of a government that is taking a global view in terms of trade would generate real opportunities post-Brexit. The feeling was that this would be good news for the smaller operators out there, as they can be more agile when change occurs – a very positive and welcome message! The panel were very concerned about the constant negative narrative in the press and fear it is influencing partners that operate outside of the UK and the EU, so the advice was to look to the positive and focus on quality. In summary, all participants echoed the words of panellist Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International: success is ours to lose. But we have to work hard and be innovative to respond to opportunity.

Michael Carrier, industry expert and former director of English Language Innovation at the British Council, thinks the publishing industry should worry less about Brexit and more about tailored content: “A lot of people seem to be very nervous about the impact of Brexit on the ELT industry, but I think most of the worries are a little exaggerated. I think the challenges that publishers face over the next few years will have more to do with the rise of online learning and the change in methodological expectations than with the political facts of Brexit. Publishers are still selling textbooks which are cautious and thematically quite bland, because they want to sell into as many markets as possible without offending local sensibilities. They are over cautious about alcohol, dress, food topics – which makes the books boring. I feel that publishers selling into markets overseas need to ensure that the content of the textbooks reflect not only the local experience but also the aspiration of the students.”

I think the challenges that publishers face over the next few years will have more to do with the rise of online learning and the change in methodological expectations than with the political facts of Brexit. Publishers are still selling textbooks which are cautious and thematically quite bland, because they want to sell into as many markets as possible without offending local sensibilities.

Of course, the simple answer is that no-one can categorically state what is in store for the ELT publishing industry, post-Brexit. If indeed it does actually happen. With key opinion leaders standing up and having their positive voices heard, perhaps we should stop obsessing about politics and concentrate on innovation. Partnering this with the quality that ELT publishers are so renowned and respected for could be a killer combination.

So, are we doomed, or do you see any potential opportunities on the post-Brexit horizon? All thoughts and comments welcome!

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