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Modest growth in Australia’s ELICOS numbers masks revenue windfall

Australia’s ELICOS sector continued its steady growth in 2016, reaching new heights for student numbers, weeks and revenue metrics, according to the latest market report by English Australia.

ELICOS, Australia, English AustraliaStudents studying at the Sydney College of English. New South Wales remained the most popular state for ELICOS students. Photo:SCE

The latest figures value the sector at A$2.258bn

The report found student numbers, total student weeks and economic impact all surpassed 2015 national records, while average course length bounced back after a minor decline last year, to also surpass its previous record.

While student numbers experienced a relatively modest 2% growth to reach 173,506, student weeks and economic impact both registered strong increases of 10% (2,319,175) and 8% respectively. The latest figures value the sector at A$2.258bn.

Brett Blacker chief executive of English Australia said taking into account student numbers alone often hides the bigger picture.

“When you look at last year, we had 4% growth but we were flat; almost the same weeks,” Blacker told The PIE News.

“We had about 10% growth in weeks and we had much greater growth in terms of economic impact. Student numbers definitely mask overall growth”

“This year we had 2% student growth, but we had about 10% growth in weeks and we had much greater growth in terms of economic impact. [Student numbers] definitely mask overall growth.”

Europe and the Americas pushed enrolments and student week growth figures for the year, with Europe making up significant ground after dropping 4% in student numbers in 2015, while the Middle East and North Africa slumped 30% to just over 5,000 enrolments and lost 20% of its student weeks.

But markets in Asia Pacific continued to dominate numbers, representing 116,459 enrolments, or 67% of the total. The region’s student figures cooled substantially after the previous year’s growth, however, improving by a razor-thin 50 enrolments and contributing to a 1% fall in its overall market share.

The region’s subdued gains were partly due to heavy student losses in the South Korean, Taiwanese and Vietnamese markets, which wiped out growth from China and Japan. Both countries consolidated their positions as the top two source markets respectively for Australian ELICOS.

For the first time, the report surveyed provider type, finding 30% (53,415) of students were in a VET-based provider, 26% (44,970) at a university-based provider, while stand-alone providers accounted for 23% (39,737) of students.

Blacker said caution was required when interpreting this data point, as providers were classified by whether they offered ELICOS courses alone, or additional programs.

“If you are VET-based, for example, that means you offer ELICOS courses as well as VET courses. It is not representing the flow of students from ELICOS into VET,” he said.

The report also noted a 1% increase in the proportion of students studying an ELICOS program while on a student visa – Australia’s visa system allows holders of some other visas, such as tourist and working holiday maker, to study for up to three months while in country.

Combined with the overall growth in student numbers, the increase in the sector’s proportion of student visa holders last year had a follow-on effect to Australia’s current boom in tertiary enrolment figures, according to Julian Wilson, director of the Institute of Continuing & TESOL Education.

“We are the canary in the mineshaft. We see [growth or decline] before the universities see it or the VET sector sees it”

Holding a student visa while undertaking an ELICOS course can be an indication that a student is using their program as a pathway for entry into a higher level program, which Wilson says may help to explain the significant 15% and 16% increases in year-to-date higher education and VET enrolment numbers.

“We are the canary in the mineshaft. We see [growth or decline] before the universities see it or the VET sector sees it,” Wilson told The PIE News.

On a state level, New South Wales remained the leading destination for students, while Victoria maintained its position as second most popular after surpassing Queensland last year, followed by Western Australia and South Australia.

In terms of actual student growth, however, South Australia was the best performer, increasing by 11%, followed by Queensland with 2%. Other states improved by 1%, below national growth.

English Australia’s market reports are conducted through sector surveys and also take into consideration ELICOS students not studying on a student visa, explaining the significant gap between the Department of Education’s enrolment reports and English Australia’s.

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