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The economics of ELT

November 26, 2006

What minimum wage?

Hello again,

A disillusioned English language teacher asked me recently if anyone ever got rich from ELT. Certainly teachers don’t. In all too many cases they are shamefully underpaid and undervalued (http://tefltrade.blog-city.com/the_soft_stumbling_of_a_skilled_snakeoil_salesman.htm). There are complex...

...reasons for this but for any small, privately owned English language school the economic realities are dire. To be competitive they have to keep prices down, maintain excellent facilities thus incurring high overheads and, inevitably, offer less than attractive salaries to teachers. Even it can then it be hard just to break even and many fall by the wayside, as was, sadly, the case earlier this month with the long-established Meads School of English in Eastbourne (http://www.englishuk.com/news/archives/41).

What then of the multi-site, global companies that run chains of schools? Perhaps for them there are some advantages in economies of scale allowing bulk discounts on books, material and equipment. It would be interesting to see their annual company reports to find out exactly how profitable they are. Of course, some establishments, such as Bell, were set up as educational trusts and are non-profit-making.

Then again, much ELT takes place in the state sector and presumably the profits, if any, do not find their way into the pockets of individuals but back into departments that run the courses. Some anomalous organisations, like the British Council, enjoy a privileged position of state subsidy to underpin their commercial enterprises.

No, I suspect the big money in ELT is to be found with the global publishers and examinations’ boards that have a truly worldwide reach and can access a much bigger market than course providers.

It would be interesting to know what a big-time entrepreneur such as Gates or Branson would make of the commercial viability of ELT. For most of us, the attraction of ELT is both the endless fascination with the language itself and the amazing opportunity to meet a range of people from almost any country and any walk of life. I know that if I undertake ELT training I am usually offered about a third of what I can ask in the business skills training field. But then, as I pointed out recently, EL teachers have valuable transferable skills so if the salary becomes an issue, maybe it is time to start looking elsewhere for more profitable outlets.

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  1. Micaela Says:

    What are the "valuable transferable skills? While I agree with this assumption, the transfer is much harder to make than it seems. I am an experienced teacher who taught in various programs and I tried to switch careers when I moved to NY. I was fully aware that I would face the challenge of finding a full time job, a real Holy Grail for ESL teachers,so I did a breakdown of my underlying skills.It turned out that I was fairly marketable for administrative jobs, sales,and counseling. However, since there are enough candidates with experience in these fields, it's harder to have a chance with transferable skills.
    While I greatly enjoy the opportunity to meet people from other cultures and I am still fascinated by the language and various teaching approached, I continue to chase that elusive full time job.
    Any words of wisdom in this regard?
    I am back to teaching now.

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