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UK ELT passes the half a million student mark, but growth has slowed

The UK ELT industry passed the half a million student mark in 2018, new English UK statistics compiled in collaboration with Bonard revealed, but growth has slowed down especially for private sector members.

The new statistics were presented at the EUK conference in London. Photo: free-photos/Pixabay

China, Romania and Poland were the fastest-growing markets for state sector members

Last year, English UK member centres welcomed 504,868 students for a total of 1,866,835 student weeks. While EU students made up 57% of all students, students from non-EU countries accounted for 63% of student weeks.

“It’s pleasing to see the strength and resilience of our industry in what has been a challenging period”

“It’s pleasing to see the strength and resilience of our industry in what has been a challenging period, with the continuing uncertainty over the UK’s relationship with the EU,” EUK chief executive Sarah Cooper said.

While figures on 2017 performance signalled a 14% growth after three years of decline, the statistics for 2018 show a growth shy of 2% and an average drop of 0.9% in student weeks – partially caused by the loss of 15 members.

The slowdown was most evident for private centre members, whose lion’s share of students  – 470,073 in 2018 – increased only 1%, compared to last year’s 16%. Student weeks were down 3%, with adult students’ stays decreasing from 5.3 to 5 weeks, and juniors’ from 1.9 to 1.8 weeks.

The private sector saw strong growth from Saudi Arabia, Chile and Argentina, but suffered a substantial loss from its first source market, Italy.

“The downward trend in length of stay seems to be a challenge globally: the UK is not alone in facing it. Tackling this issue might be essential for language schools worldwide going forward,” Bonard CEO Samuel Vetrak commented.

“This underlines the need for UK ELT centres to be (or become) strategic and highly effective in their international student recruitment activities.”

Universities and colleges, on the other hand, showed a strong performance, in contrast to last year’s losses, with a 10.5% rise in student numbers and 11% in student weeks, with a total course duration jumping from 8.8 to 9.2 weeks – although only 60% of members reported growth in student weeks.

China, Romania and Poland were the fastest-growing markets for state sector members.

“[The data] gives us much to reflect on in the student weeks trend – we will be looking at this carefully and encouraging members to consider this as part of their business development,” Cooper added.

She said the association would be looking for longer-term trends in the performance of the state and private sectors.

“Early indications are that the uneven growth in the state sector this year is partly explained by fluctuations in membership. The state sector is traditionally very attractive to the Chinese market, and some of our members also performed very strongly in certain Eastern European markets,” she told The PIE.

Another difference with last year’s statistics is the slight decline in under 18s, although the age group still makes up 51% of all enrolments at English UK member centres – and in state sector members, the proportion on juniors has increased by 3% to 13%. Adult learners instead have increased by 5%.

London’s market share declined by two percentage points to 26%, while Northern England showed the biggest growth with a 9% increase.


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