A spokesperson for MEI told The PIE News that the sector’s junior market had been completely wiped out and that it expects an 80% drop in overall numbers.
“The big thing is that the junior market is completely wiped out for the year”
The Progressive College Network, another association, estimated that the fall in numbers would be around 75,000 after it consulted institutions across the country, but added that this estimate was conservative.
The English language sector is worth an estimated €1.2 billion to the Irish economy each year and both associations have warned of the impact that the drop in numbers will have on jobs.
“The big thing is that the junior market is completely wiped out for the year, and that would equate for half of the students [in Ireland].
“That would be 65,000 students already that aren’t coming,” MEI marketing manager, Lorcan O’Connor Lloyd, told The PIE.
“There are roughly 150,000 English language students that come in a normal year and we are expecting only about 20% of those to come this year,” he added.
PCN warned that quarantine rules in Ireland – Most people who arrive in Ireland from another country need to restrict their movements for 14 days – will have a “devastating” impact on the ELT sector.
“The majority of students will choose not to travel to Ireland rather than spend their first two weeks here in quarantine,” said PCN’s chairman, David Russell.
“This, in turn, will have huge knock-on effects for the tourism sector as host families, travel operators and small businesses up and down the country rely to a great extent on foreign students visiting the country.
“The worst of the Covid-19 pandemic may be behind us, but with thousands of students unlikely to visit, there is a significant risk of school closures and job losses in the sector,” he added.
According to Russell, another reason for the drop in numbers is that core countries for incoming students such as Italy and Spain have been hit hard by the pandemic.
O’Connor Lloyd told The PIE that there are around 3,000 people working full-time in language schools. He also estimated that there are a further 7,000 jobs that use seasonal and part-time workers.
“We would imagine that those 7000 jobs are at risk, if those jobs are not gone. Certainly, they will be gone for this year, and all of those people will be on government subsidies or on furlough.
“It’s now just about trying to revive for summer business next year,” he said.
“My fear is that when the clouds do clear and we can re-open classrooms, some of those schools simply won’t reopen”
Russell told The PIE that, at the moment, a small number of language schools have closed. However, he suggested that the true number of closures may be revealed when schools re-open this August.
“Most schools have rolled out online classes. If a school hasn’t been doing this, I think that should be seen as a red flag, because my fear is that when the clouds do clear and we can re-open classrooms, some of those schools simply won’t reopen,” he warned.
“It could be a situation where they have already folded but are kind of keeping it quiet until further down the line.”
MEI and the Independent Language Schools Group prepared a recovery plan for the English Language Industry that has been passed to the Irish government.
Suggested measures include a wage subsidy scheme, direct support for commercial rents, tax reliefs, commercial rates reliefs, reduced rate of Employers PRSI and continuation of stamp 2 visas which enables qualifying students to work part-time during their course.