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10% boom in Irish ELT, propelled by adult enrolments

English language schools in Ireland saw a 10% rise in student numbers in 2015, driven by gains in adult student weeks and the fruition of targeted marketing campaigns in Asia.

Cork city centre. International English language students contributed €278.3m to the Irish economy according to MEI estimates. Photo: Amy Barr.

Lengths of stay also increased substantially to 655,757 weeks, up 38%

Marketing English in Ireland’s annual survey shows there were 107,000 English language students studying in the country last year, each staying on average six weeks. Growth was driven mostly by adult student (18+)  enrolments which increased 19% on the previous year.

Lengths of stay also increased substantially to 655,757 weeks, up 38% on the previous year, bolstered by a 46% increase in student weeks among adult students.

By volume, Italy sent the most adult students: 12,004. Brazilian students made up the second largest cohort, with 10,293 students, but accounted for 38% of total stays with 212,240 weeks.

South Korea was the third largest source country, sending 2,506 students, and the second in lengths of stay, with 45,230 weeks.

“We are benefitting from the UK fall…It’s hard to quantify but the benefit is there”

Among juniors, European countries continue to be the strongest source of students led by Italy with 11,966 students staying 24,679 weeks and Spain with 7,531 students staying 22,070 weeks.

David O’Grady, CEO of MEI, said he was pleased with the figures but underlined the vulnerability of the country’s top markets.

“We always remain nervous because Italy is not in a strong economic position. A lot of those numbers were PON students and the whole PON thing is up in the air. Nobody seems to know if it’s going to happen again,” he told The PIE News.

Brazil as a market, he said, was precarious, adding, “the economy is going through a very difficult phase and we can’t expect them to keep the Science Without Borders programme going on.”

He attributed the 32% growth in South Korean students to targeted marketing campaigns across Asia.

The double digit growth figures also back anecdotal reports throughout 2015 that Ireland was benefitting from a slowdown in the UK’s ELT sector and the weakness of the euro to the pound.

“We are benefitting from the UK fall,” confirmed O’Grady. “Our members who have operations in the UK as well would say that for 2015 they were down 30% when they were up in summer business in Ireland. It’s hard to quantify but the benefit is there.”

Estimates from MEI indicate that the total fees paid by English language students in 2015 was €278.3m, which covered student fees, accommodation and travel.

English language students also supported the employment of 900 full time teachers and 600 full time administrative staff across the 60 regulated MEI member schools and colleges nationwide.

Brazilian students accounted for 38% of total adult student weeks

During the peak summer months of June, July and August, teacher numbers rose to 1,800 and administrative staff to 800 employees.

Though not among top senders, Turkey continues to be a strong source of students for Irish ELT providers, thanks to a fast-tracked visa programme rolled out in 2011.

MEI extended the programme to Chinese students a year later to mixed results spurring the organisation to change its marketing strategy in the country.

“What we’d been doing collectively and even individually as schools hasn’t been reaping the rewards that we thought,” commented O’Grady.

“We’re going to focus more on second tier cities in the hope that [students from] smaller cities might be more culturally happy moving to let’s say a small city like Dublin.”

MEI is awaiting approval from the Ministry of Justice to roll out the programme to Colombia.

“Market research shows there’s a big middle class population in Colombia who are sending their children and students abroad and we’re getting a tiny amount of that,” O’Grady said.


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