StudyTravel Magazine: English UK examines changes in key Saudi market

ELT association English UK is focusing on the evolution of the Saudi Arabia market with a new report that examines demand for English language and a shift towards self-funded study abroad.

Nov 17, 2023 Study Travel Magazine

The new English Language Market Report: Saudi Arabia 2023, exclusively available for accredited centres, is the latest in a series produced by English UKand the British Council and was written by market research partners Bonard.

“The importance of acquiring proficiency in English language extends beyond the needs of individual Saudi citizens; it is now essential to the broader economic transformation and development of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said the authors in the Executive Summary, noting the planned transformation of the country from a petroleum to a knowledge-based economy in the Saudi Vision 2030.

Saudi Arabia ranked 108 out of 113 countries analysed in the EF English Proficiency Index (EPI) 2023, leaving it in the ‘very low proficiency’ band.

“Saudi students are increasingly pursuing higher education abroad and taking English language programmes to facilitate this. The shift will encourage more students to look for ELT classes independently and pay for their education,” the authors said.

Factors driving this trend include the end of the King Abdullah scholarship scheme in 2020, more demand for ELT skills, the UK's electronic visa waiver for Saudi nationals announced last year, and a growing desire for international study experiences, they argued.

The authors said that Saudi Arabia was by student weeks the fifth-largest ELT source market globally in 2022 with 297,787 weeks. It was the top source country for English UK members in 2022 with 177,610 weeks, meaning the UK delivered around 60 per cent of Saudi student weeks last year. 

The authors said that English UK member centres taught 13,483 Saudi students in 2022, compared with 8,750 that were enrolled in higher education courses in the UK, and that an increasing number of students are self-funded.

The document outlines 15 recommendations based on the latest trends in student recruitment in Saudi Arabia across three areas: awareness building and marketing; recruitment; and facilitating strong bilateral relations.

Jodie Gray, Chief Executive of English UK, said, “This is exactly the kind of practical market information our members need to thrive as they rebuild and grow after Covid and Brexit.

“This is one of our biggest markets, but it is evolving in new ways we all need to understand. This is part of our commitment to support our members and UK ELT in understanding and reaching valuable and potential markets, and offering the best possible English language learning experience to students.”

The UK accounted for more than half of the Saudi ELT student weeks globally.

Mike Welch, the British Council's Director of Global Operations (teaching), added, “We have been delighted to work with English UK on a series of market reports to support our accredited ELT centres and this one, disrupted by the Covid pandemic, has proved very timely. I'm sure it will be very useful to centres already welcoming Saudi students as well as those hoping to enter this market.”

The Saudi Arabia study was based on a literature review, a survey of 142 UK language centres, and in-depth interviews with UK ELT providers and Saudi agents, as well as English UK staff and government representatives.

Previous reports co-produced by English UK and the British Council include the Europe Future Outlook, published in 2021; English Language Market Report: Japan, published in 2020; and English Language Market Report: Thailand published in 2018.

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