Global ELT recovery remains “uneven” in 2023

The annual report by BONARD into the global ELT sector trends shows “uneven” recovery continuing across major ELT destinations as 2023 comes to a close.

Dec 22, 2023 The Pie News

Factors that shaped the recovery in 2022 included a slower recovery in the junior market, a lower average age of English learners, extended lengths of stay and the critical role of staff and accommodation. 

Trends Shaping the Future of Global English Language Teaching called 2023 an “obstacle race with mixed results” for destinations. 

In 2022, the US saw a markedly slow recovery, achieving just 52% of its 2019 figures in student weeks, and Canada saw rocky figures after being top in ELT in 2021. 

At the other end of the spectrum, Malta was the only major ELT destination to outperform its pre pandemic levels and Ireland recorded a 97% recovery, the report said. The UK recorded “impressive increases”, but “still has a long way to go” to fully recover after the pandemic. 

Overall, Australia emerged as the strongest 2022 destination, enjoying a “robust Q4 2022 performance, when it also benefited from an increased market share”. 

Looking at source countries, one officer at BONARD even wagered that the global sector was “reconfiguring”. 

“Markets in LATAM [are] growing fast and other traditionally strong source countries which the sector relied upon – such as China and Italy, for example – [are] being slower than expected in their recovery,” said the data company’s international director Ivana Bartosik. 

Latin America indeed showed marked improvement, as it recovered 87% of its 2019 student weeks across 2022. 

While Brazil failed to record growth in 2022, the other largest markets including Chile, Argentina and Peru recovered to their pre-pandemic volumes and “recorded impressive growth” – growth that is set to continue, BONARD predicted. 

In terms of the overall trends for 2023, juniors, while beginning to travel again in 2022, saw student numbers increase faster than student weeks in junior-heavy destinations (the UK, Malta, Ireland), most likely due to their shorter travel periods. 

Those juniors, additionally, are getting younger. The average age, BONARD said, decreased to 11-13 from 15-16, which it said would boost demand for high school exchanges.

Overall, however, the length of stay has increased markedly across all destinations, due to rising flight costs – something that BONARD has said remains “unclear” if it’s a long-term shift or a temporary bump. 

Senior research manager Sarah Verkinova pointed out that the sector needs to review existing pay, working conditions and benefits for its staff if it is to hold on to its teaching talent. 

“This will determine whether or not the sector will confidently grow and expand as it moves on from the pandemic years,” she said, responding to the report’s findings that staff shortages are an ongoing problem and ELT schools have been struggling to fill pandemic-related vacancies. 

Accommodation has also been an issue, with shortages in many major destinations signalling potential hindering of the sector’s overall recovery. Also not helping are the increased refusal rates and delays of visas. 

Pointing out Australia and Canada’s issues in 2022, the report noted that Turkey is “facing challenges with UK refusals, while Nepal is encountering similar issues with Australia”. 

Nepalese ELT students temporarily lost the right to study abroad when the government attempted to keep talent within its borders. The move was subsequently walked back.

It also listed emerging trends, including improving domestic English language education, something chief intelligence officer Patrik Pavlacic said would have “huge ramifications for the ELT industry”. 

“Markets in LATAM are growing fast”

The rise of TNE which is affecting the higher education will also have an impact on the ELT sector, BONARD predicts, as TNE partnerships for English language education can be “supported by government and sector organisations”. 

Finally, a growing demand for studying English on the Asian continent has attracted a “significant proportion of students”. 

“Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia have become established hubs for students from within the region seeking to improve their English,” the report said.

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