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US looks for IEP recovery after 2021 enrolments remain 50% down

Some 39,352 international students enrolled to 330 intensive English programs in the US in the 2021 calendar year, figures show. While the enrolments are up slightly on 2020 figures, they are still around 50% of pre-pandemic numbers.

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A snapshot of spring enrolment among EnglishUSA members found that 60% reported increases compared to last spring 2021

The statistics from the Open Doors IEP data, released at the NAFSA conference in Denver, found that overall students studied for 514,685 weeks. The decline in students was largely down to the Covid-19 pandemic, IIE noted. There are, however, hopes that the sector can recover with the help of new initiatives.

In 2019, a total of 75,379 international students enrolled with 394 IEP providers.

“It’s important to note that the Covid-19 pandemic has continued to impact not only US intensive English programs, but the entire English language industry globally,” IIE research specialist Julie Baer said.

“We’re optimistic”

Some 99% of IEPs indicated that the pandemic had “adversely impacted” their program in 2021, with 5% indicating they had permanently closed their programs.

The IEP proportion of total US international student enrolments has dropped to around 1%.

The latest release shows that 21% of IEP students come from either Japan or China. Top sending countries were Japan, sending 4,298 students, China 3,754, France 2,639, Saudi Arabia 2,627 and South Korea 1,768.

“Japan has historically been among the top five places of origin for international students in the US and had previously maintained a leading place of origin in the early 2000s,” Baer explained.

“China ranked as the second leading place of origin, with over 3,700 students and the overall number of Chinese students fell at a sharper rate than average, likely due to a number of factors due to the travel challenges and institutional program suspensions over the past couple of years.”

After Asia – which collectively was a source of 12,425 IEP students – Europe was the second largest source region.

A total of 11,475 enrolled from the continent, with the 2,639 students from France joining, a further 1,375 came from Germany, 1,260 from Italy, 1,153 from Switzerland.

However, EnglishUSA is hoping to increase numbers with a range of initiatives. 

“We’re optimistic,” said executive director, Cheryl Delk-Le Good. “[One priority is] expanding the scope of influence through enhanced alliances, this includes, more recently, a Strategic Alliance Group of agent associations in Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and Mexico.”

A snapshot of spring enrolment among EnglishUSA members found that 60% reported increases compared to last spring 2021, she noted.

Among EnglishUSA members, Saudi Arabia is the top sending country, but it will likely drop as a result of changes in the King Abdullah Scholarship Program.

“We expect that they will certainly drop further down,” Delk-Le Good said. “English language study is no longer part of the scholarship program, only language study other than English for Saudi students going to other countries.”

While key markets such as Japan and South Korea have challenges with demographic decline and more affordable English language options in country, there appear to be more opportunities in Latin America, Gabriela Zelaya from the US department of commerce suggested. Brazil, for example, has limited English study options in the country, driving students to study overseas.

Colombia, which contributed 1,832 students in 2021, is a “booming market for English language training”, she said.

“Education services exports ranked as the eighth largest services export at $31.8 billion for the US in 2021”

A total of 1,152 students from Chile joined IEP programs, and 1,151 from Brazil, in 2021.

The most recent US Bureau of Economic Analysis education Service export numbers for the 2021 calendar year noted education services exports ranked as the eighth largest services export at $31.8 billion for the US,” she said.

“At NAFSA, we have a USA A Study Destination as our pavilion. This is a new US Department of Commerce engagement for the industry. This engagement is aimed at boosting US education exports by promoting the US as a premier destination for international students to study.”

The initiative aims to tackle challenges faced by increased global competition in the international education sector and to foster economic growth, she added.

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