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Australia: ELICOS witnesses sharp downward trend

Australia’s ELICOS sector has witnessed a sharp downward year-on-year trend, according to the detailed National ELICOS Market Report 2021, released by English Australia.

Queensland witnessed the highest downturn in student numbers of all states, as well as the biggest drop in economic impact, in 2021. Photo: iStock

The sector has seen an overall downfall of $1.94 billion since 2019

Since 2019, Australia’s English language teaching sector has shrunk by 82% in terms of economic output and by 77% in student numbers. The downward spiral has continued year-on-year from 2020 to 2021 as well, according to the report, which was commissioned by English Australia and prepared by market research and data specialists, Bonard.

“We still don’t have the full 2021 statistics for all the eight major destinations for English language students worldwide, but we expect the downward trend seen in 2020 to have continued in 2021,” Svetlana Cruz, senior research manager at Bonard, said.

“We expect Australia to have lost some market share to Canada, especially in Latin America”

“However, as other destinations gradually reopened their borders – Canada in 2020, followed by the UK and the US in 2021 – we can expect them to show milder declines in student numbers than the ones recorded in Australia.”

Canada recently reported record low student numbers in 2021.

“As the recovery starts, we expect Australia to have lost some market share to Canada, especially in Latin America,” Cruz highlighted.

In Australia, student numbers fell by 56%in 2021 compared with the previous year, from 90,130 to 39,735 — leading to an economic downfall by 61% or AU$661 million in financial terms.

The report estimates that recovery back to the 2019 numbers, might take a few years — going beyond 2025.

In terms of state comparisons, the state of Queensland witnessed the highest downturn in student numbers (66%), while South Australia (35%) saw the lowest.

In the context of the economic impact in 2021 compared to 2020, Queensland saw the largest drop (66%), followed by Victoria (62%).

In terms of the performance of the main source regions, Europe saw the biggest downfall (74%) from 2020 to 2021, while Asia-Pacific saw the lowest downturn (50%) compared to other major regions — a metric that would give a sigh of relief to Australia’s ELICOS sector, as Asia Pacific is overwhelmingly the largest source region for the sector.

This was primarily due to the “students in this region showing more uptake of online study and/or studying on off-shore campuses of Australian ELICOS providers”, the report noted.

“For Australia, cumulatively, the top 10 source markets provided 74% of student numbers and 75% of student weeks,” it highlighted.

Among the top 10 source countries, Brazil saw the biggest downturn (70%), while Nepal (35%) and Vietnam (36%) were the steadiest.

Indonesia was the largest growing market and China the largest declining market, in terms of student numbers. China, however, continued to be the single largest market by leaps and bounds, with an overall marketshare of 25%.

Nepal and India, both jumped a few places each in the top source market rankings, with Nepal rising from the seventh to the fourth spot and India rising from the ninth to seventh.

“Comparing Australia’s data from 2021 and 2020 points to a drop of 56% in student numbers and 59% in student weeks. In an industry that relies on international students to operate, stand-alone ELICOS colleges were the hardest-hit institutions within international education sector,” the report added.

“Canada gained a competitive advantage over Australia”

“As English language learners studying in Canada and Australia share a similar profile (e.g., the possibility to work while studying is an important factor in study destination choice), Canada gained a competitive advantage over Australia.”

Further, the share of city based ELICOS providers grew between 2019 to 2021 (92% to 94%), while the share of regional-based providers declined (8% to 6%) — meaning thereby, that a growing number of students were preferring to study with city-based providers.

University based providers had the largest share of enrolments (38%), followed by VET based providers (31%).

The pandemic has taken a huge toll on Australia’s ELICOS sector, with the sector experiencing an “82% fall in economic contribution compared with pre-Covid-19 levels”, the report concluded.

As a result, the sector has seen an overall downfall of $1.94 billion since 2019.

However, with growing online and hybrid delivery of courses (95% of ELICOS colleges delivered English language courses online in 2021), Australia’s ELICOS sector is hoping to recover from the year-on-year downfall — from the baseline figures of the pre-Covid levels of 2019.

“The report results demonstrate the devastating impact on our sectors after two years of international border closures,” English Australia CEO, Brett Blacker, told The PIE.

“I was pleased to be able to present some more positive news based on the trends that we are starting to observe toward market recovery.”

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