Speaking at the association’s annual conference, Millns explained that student weeks fell 5.3% overall across the 440 UK member schools, with the adult sector faring worst.
Adult bookings were down 7.2%, while junior bookings actually bucked the trend and increased year on year. Millns explained that the relative ease of obtaining visas for children was behind this.
“Junior student weeks were up 21% and actually represented over 20% of business across English UK member schools for the first time,” he told delegates.
In his summation for members, Millns also pointed out that the most recent year-end figures masked a high level of volatility in source markets.
“Junior student weeks were up 21% and actually represented over 20% of business”
Some Latin American business prospered last year, with Argentina up 47% in student volume, although Colombia fell by 25%. China also fell 25% with the rest of the Far East down 22% – a pattern apparent in Saudi Arabia and Turkey as well. “These are bigger changes than usual,” Millns said.
Other speakers at the conference included the Migration Observatory and Neil Hughes from the UK Border Agency (UKBA), who patiently explained to the non-converted the government’s mantra to recruit the “brightest and best”.
However, the Migration Observatory poured cold water on government plans to reduce net migration by explaining the migration bounce effect; whereby any rise in immigration is offset in a few years by a rise in emigration, since international students tend to leave the UK in time anyway.
Hughes did acknowledge that UKBA was “watching the numbers carefully” and had noted a big drop in applications from India.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, argued that the UK government should look at international education as one of the country’s greatest exports. “Sending students home after studying is an absurd idea,” he said, an argument delegates appreciated coming from a relative industry outsider.
There were also reasons to be cheerful. Chair Sue Edwards talked about a “huge positive opportunity” for members despite the current challenging times, while Millns pointed out that bogus colleges had “largely gone” according to association research
He added that the Extended Student Visitor Visa – a short term visa which can only be used by English language students – had been a success for schools. Members who used it encountered an average refusal rate of just 8% and said that 93 per cent of their students had returned home to apply for a further UK study visa.