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Australian ELICOS holds steady as visitors boost numbers

Australia’s ELICOS sector closed out 2018 in more or less the same overall position as the previous year but a changing student cohort signals underlying rebalances, according to full-year market figures from English Australia.

Australian ELICOS figures held steady in 2018, according to English Australia. Photo: Raj Eiamworakul/UnsplashAustralian ELICOS figures held steady in 2018, according to English Australia. Photo: Raj Eiamworakul/Unsplash

"At some point, there was going to be an equilibrium"

In 2018, ELICOS student numbers increased 1% to 179,300 and student weeks saw a small decline of one-tenth of a per cent, due to changing source markets and visa types used to study in Australia.

“We saw a larger increase in the volume of visitor visas”

“The average weeks are down, and we saw for the Asia Pacific relatively flatter student [numbers]… particularly from China,” explained EA chief executive Brett Blacker.

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“We saw a change in the demographics of the Americas, too; more Colombians, less Brazilians. The Brazilians tended to study a longer duration as well, and so there’s a bit of impact out of the change.”

While the combined decrease of total weeks and increase of student numbers saw the average length of stay shorten slightly to 13 weeks, economic impact continued to build, reaching $2.35 billion.

Based on responses from CRICOS-registered ELICOS providers, the figures add to those previously released by the Department of Education and Training in March, which showed ELICOS enrolments just surpassed record levels to 156,400.

English Australia figures include students on additional visa types from study, and Blacker said growth was pushed by visitor numbers, which increased 8% compared to a decrease in student visa numbers of just over half a per cent.

Overall, visitor visa holders increased to 23% of all ELICOS students, taking market share from both the study and working holiday visa categories, which Blacker said also contributed to the small decline in student weeks.

“We saw a larger increase in the volume of visitor visas and on average students study much less in terms of the period of study,” he said.

By source regions, all but Europe increased, with the Middle East and Africa leading growth at 9%, albeit of far smaller base. The Asia Pacific, meanwhile, saw a mild 1% increase and Europe experienced its second consecutive double-digit percentage decrease, down 11%.

Blacker told The PIE News external factors were having the most significant impact on European numbers considering Australia as a study destination.

“There was a period where we had growth [from Europe], and that was when most of the Brexit factors were in place. If anything, we were just taking some of the market share at that time from the UK,” he said.

“We’ve seen that trend some time, and it will continue; it’s the economics of it”

“At some point, there was going to be an equilibrium.”

Blacker added more students were choosing to undertake ELICOS studies at home before going overseas for tertiary education, in a bid to reduce overall costs.

Kadi Taylor, head of strategic engagement and government relations at Navitas, agreed with Blacker’s observations, adding that while students were choosing to remain within their home country for English language studies, Australian providers were still benefiting.

“More often than not, students are studying with top quality Australian providers delivering in China, Vietnam, and other key markets,” she said.

“We’ve seen that trend some time, and it will continue; it’s the economics of it. The student can stay at home a bit long but still get that preparatory English language base and then come onshore.”

Changing market demands have also resulted in providers looking to new revenue streams, Taylor said, and the English language study groups market was seeing substantial growth both for ELICOS and as a taster for other levels of study overseas.

Year to April figures from DET indicate onshore ELICOS student numbers will continue modest growth for 2019, up 1% from the previous year.

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