Overall the total number of students at MEI member schools decreased by 3% in 2014, while the adult market alone showed an even greater drop of 15% from 57,478 in 2013 to 47,786 last year.
Student week figures showed an even bigger decline, with a total of 376,770 adult student weeks in 2014 – a 20% decrease from 470,486 weeks the year before.
“Ireland doesn’t have an embassy in Caracas… that market greatly shrunk”
A significant reason for this decline in the adult market, according to the CEO of MEI, David O’Grady, is the loss of the once-thriving Venezuelan market.
After the Irish government introduced visas for Venezuelans in 2014, he told The PIE News the number of students completely dropped.
“Ireland doesn’t have an embassy in Caracas so we don’t have anything on the ground to facilitate or process visas, so that market greatly shrunk.”
He also credited the decline to two big schools that were part of MEI in 2013, but their absence in 2014 resulted in a lower student base.
Bucking the declining trend was the junior market last year, which overall displayed a 16% increase in the number of students as well as an increase of 7% in the total number of student weeks.
Despite expecting a slump from countries which are experiencing economic difficulties, such as Spain and Italy, O’Grady said they “never materialised in the junior market”.
“We’ve just held on to the market. I think the euro is competitive against sterling, but it’s more or less holding its own,” he said.
Over the past year, thirteen private colleges in Ireland have closed down, with the latest just a few weeks ago.
“There’s this danger and risk around the price and we have to be careful of that”
O’Grady said that although it would be difficult to quantify how much of an effect it is having on MEI member institutions, they feel the danger of having to compete with non-members “because they’re very cheap”.
“There’s this danger and risk around the price and we have to be careful of that here but I’m not sure if there has been a great reduction because of that,” he said.
“I think serious agents and students would know that what’s going on is an attempt to get rid of the problem here.”
In South America, despite the decrease in Venezuelan students, the Brazilian source market is booming, with a total of 5,096 adult students last year, accounting for 96,298 student weeks.
The surge in Brazilian students is the result of targeted marketing by MEI schools in combination with Ireland’s participation in the Science without Borders programme, O’Grady said.
He also said that schools are expecting to see a decline in junior enrolments from Russia this year, but providers are confident numbers from traditional source markets will counterbalance any decrease.