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4% fall in Australian English language market

Australia’s English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS) sector has reported a 4% drop in numbers for the 2011 calendar year.  The number of enrolments fell to 134,440 from 140,102 in 2010 marking the third year in a row that the market has seen a decline in numbers since it peaked at 162,114 in 2008.

China retained its majority share of the market despite a 7% drop in numbers

Consequentially the average number of weeks studied per student also decreased from 11.9 weeks in 2010 to 11.2 in 2011 resulting in a 6% drop in spending to AUS$1.462bn from AUS$1.557bn in 2010.

According to a report commissioned by peak body English Australia that includes statistics on ELICOS students on all visas including working holiday, visitor and other types, student numbers from all source regions except Africa declined. Asia declined by 4%, Europe and South and Central America both by 3% and the Middle East the most by 13%.

Regional shares of the market didn’t change from last year with Asia continuing to provide the largest number of enrolments for all markets in Australia.

China retained its majority share of the market (19%, down from 20% in 2010) despite a 7% drop in numbers. South Korea came second, then Japan, Brazil, Thailand, Taiwan, Colombia, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. Of these top 10 market shareholders, only Japan demonstrated growth of 1% putting it head to head with South Korea, who experienced a %5 decline. Vietnam decreased the most by 22%.

Similar to 2010, 48% of all ELICOS enrolment came from China, South Korea and Japan. But, other source countries actually showed a surge in student numbers namely Hong Kong (559), Italy (1,013) and Spain (226).

Manager of International Engagement at the Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET) Ingeborg Loon chalks this up to the high unemployment rate in Italy and Spain. “People are seeking to improve their skills and employability; English language skills are seen as a natural passport to our globalised economy,” she told The PIE News.

Despite the overall decline, individual state markets varied. New South Whales (NSW) increased its market share of all enrolments to 42% due to a decline in previously dominant states Queensland and South Australia accounting. And NSW saw a 1% growth equating to 531 more enrolments, however Queensland, which made up 25% of the market, experienced the biggest drop in enrolments by 7,276 – a loss of almost 20%.

In terms of visas, the number of ELICOS students with a student visa declined by 13% while students with a visitor and working visas showed modest growth of 0.5% and 1.1% respectively.

Of the top 10 market shareholders, only Japan demonstrated growth of 1%

ACPET says the fall in issued student visas is a large factor in the industry’s declining numbers. It reports that its members have seen a high student visa rejection rate for English language courses due to the newly-introduced Genuine Temporary Entrant (GTE) criterion.

Reasons for refusals given to applicants range from the applicant does not have any assets, he or she hasn’t made any attempts to study English before or is unemployed.

According to Loon, the ELICOS sector is naturally vulnerable to changes in the international student market because it is wholly reliant on foreign students. Meanwhile, many ACPET members that offer VET, English and higher education, school and foundation courses continue to thrive. “Especially those with a healthy, sustainable mix of domestic and international students,” Loon said.

Other reasons affecting the industry continue to be the high Australian dollar, competition from other English language speaking markets, and students from large source markets like China increasingly choosing to improve their English through a course at home.

Still students are pleased with their Australian English language experience. Last month a survey showed that 87% of ELICOS students were satisfied or very satisfied with their course. And in each satisfaction indicator ELICOS ranked above the average putting it at the lead in terms of international student satisfaction in Australia.

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