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UK ELT suffers double digit declines in weeks and numbers

The UK’s ELT sector has not escaped the repercussions of the country’s unwelcoming visa policy and referendum rhetoric, according to a new report, which shows the sector saw double digit declines in both student weeks and student numbers last year.

English UK chief executive Sarah CooperEnglish UK chief executive Sarah Cooper presents at the association's AGM in Bristol. Photo: The PIE News.

Top source market Italy fell from over a quarter of a million student weeks to 224,139 last year

The number of student weeks among English UK members fell to 1,787,380 last year – a decline of 13%. Similarly, student numbers decreased by 11%, to 476,920.

This is the third consecutive year of decline the UK’s ELT sector has experienced, according to the English UK report, produced by StudentMarketing.

“The full effects of Brexit will be reflected in 2017 figures”

“For 2016, the common denominator shaping the direction of the industry was undoubtedly Brexit,” noted Samuel Vetrak, StudentMarketing CEO.

He noted, “Weakening of the pound, triggered by the results of referendum on Brexit, certainly helped the UK attract students that were previously put off by the costs attached to studying in the UK.”

However, these influencers did not manage to prevent another year of decline for the UK’s ELT industry. And Vetrak added that “the full effects of Brexit will be reflected in 2017 figures.”

Last year, 441 English language centres were members of English UK – 73 of which are part of the state sector, and the remaining 368 are private language centres.

Looking at just the private centre members, eight of the UK’s top 10 source countries showed a decline in student weeks according to the statistics.

Top source market Italy fell from over a quarter of a million student weeks to 224,139 last year – a decline of 12.5%.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia overtook Spain to become the second biggest source market, with 141,120 student weeks – up by 16.6%. Spain and France’s student weeks both fell by 17.2% and 12.3%, respectively.

However, China climbed into the top five sending countries for the first time, after displaying steady growth to 24,741 students, accounting for 85,328 student weeks.

And for the first time in history, EUK members taught more junior that adult students. Just over half of the incoming ELT students (51%) were juniors, aged 18 and under.

Speaking to delegates at the English UK AGM in Bristol this week, the association’s chief executive, Sarah Cooper, said that in recent years the UK ELT industry “has been under extreme pressure, due in no small part to an increasingly turbulent political environment”.

The UK ELT industry “has been under extreme pressure”

The ever-tightening visa policy coupled with the rhetoric and then results of the EU referendum has sustained the perception of the UK being unwelcoming to international students, said Cooper.

“In contrast, our key competitors in Australia, the US, New Zealand, Canada and Ireland, have capitalised on this, and have seen overall their share of the market increase,” she continued.

“The Trump presidency and the uncertainty about European elections make the global map of international education very vulnerable to further dramatic change.”

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