StudyTravel Magazine: 47% decrease for Australia’s ELT schools in 2020, fears for 2021

The number of international students enrolled at Australia’s ELICOS English language centres decreased by 47 per cent in 2020, according to the latest annual report from sector peak body English Australia, which has warned that 2021 is likely to be worse for the sector.

Jul 1, 2021 StudyTravel Magazine

The English Australia National ELICOS Annual Market Report 2020, based on responses from 126 active institutions, covers all visa types as well as remote enrolments, and shows that the number of international students registered decreased by 47 per cent to 90,130.

Student weeks also declined by 47 per cent, compared with the previous year, to 1,222,603, while the estimated value of the sector dropped by 53.2 per cent to AUS$1.1 billion.

Presenting the findings of the report in a special webinar, Brett Blacker, CEO of English Australia, said that the pandemic had wiped out more than ten years of growth for the ELICOS sector.

australia students

Student numbers in Australia, 2015-2020. Source of graphics - English Australia/Bonard.

Despite Australia’s closed borders since March 2020, the overall decline of 47 per cent in student numbers was less than many other ELT destinations experienced last year, including the UK, Ireland, Malta and South Africa.

Simon Lockyer, Communications Officer at English Australia, advised StudyTravel Magazine that the overall figure was bolstered by a strong first quarter before the border closures, re-enrolment of students who remained in the country, and the strength of Australia’s pathway/academic preparation sector.

But he cautioned that the full-year data masks the progressive decline of student numbers through the year, with the EA Q4 2020 quarterly survey showing a 68.4 per cent decrease.

We're expecting 2021 to be far worse than 2020,” he said. The early findings of EA’s Q1 2021 research are indicating a 75 per cent decrease compared with the first quarter of last year; Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) data on student visas for Feb 2021 shows a 68.6 per cent year-to-date decline; and other visa streams have virtually ceased.

China remained the top source country in 2020, despite a 48 per cent decrease to 18,830 students, while Colombia became the second-largest source market with 10,772 students and a decrease of only 25 per cent. Brett noted that there was a strong intake of Colombian students in early 2020 before the borders closed.

The top five was completed by Japan (8,453 students, -60 per cent), Brazil (7,585 students, -48 per cent) and Korea (5,213, -53). Nepal entered the top 10 in 2020 and had only a 13 per cent decrease, the lowest recorded.

Student visa students accounted for 74 per cent of students enrolled last year, but decreased by 43 per cent. There were larger declines in the visitor visa (-68 per cent) and working holiday visa (-61 per cent) categories.

top 10The top 10 source markets for Australia's ELICOS centres in 2020.

Offshore students studying online were included in the ‘other’ visa category for the 2020 survey, and this accounted for a six per cent increase in this segment to 8,208. Around half of these students were estimated to be studying online.

China was by far the largest source of offshore online students with 1,517 students, followed by Japan (157). Brett noted that many of the Chinese students were on pathway programmes or academic preparation for future university study.

Simon commented that the transition to online delivery had been one of the success stories of 2020. “Colleges are increasingly trying to leverage this market but most of the successes have occurred in EAP and pathway courses and are yet to filter into the general English stream. We envision this changing with the 2021 Innovation Fund and its grants to enhance online and offshore delivery.”

student numbers
Agents accounted for 82 per cent of students in 2020.

By ELICOS provider type, VET colleges accounted for 34 per cent of English language students in 2020, an increased share compared with 26 per cent in the previous year. Stand-alone ELICOS colleges dropped to 32 per cent market share, while universities increased from 21 per cent in 2019 to 29 per cent.

Brett noted that VET colleges had some success in enrolling new students who were already in Australia, while the universities had shown greater capacity to shift students online.

Agents accounted for 82 per cent of students enrolled in 2020, a slightly reduced ratio compared with the previous year but consistent with Australia’s typically high reliance on agencies as a booking source, as demonstrated in StudyTravel Magazine’s annual Market Analysis surveys.

New South Wales remained the largest host state of ELICOS students, despite a 45 per cent decrease to 35,550 students, followed by Victoria with 23,354 students (-47 per cent). Queensland had the largest year-on-year decrease at 51 per cent, while South Australia had the smallest at 36 per cent.

In terms of Covid impact, 64 per cent of respondents said that revenue decreased by more than 50 per cent in 2020, and 60 per cent expect no recovery at all for 2021.

More than nine in 10 colleges changed their model of delivery and implemented refund policies in 2020, while 84 per cent had to reduce staffing levels, and 74 per cent applied for government support or funding.

english australiaSimon commented, “We continue to lobby and work with federal and state/territory governments to gain support for our sector. While our borders remain closed, our sector still suffers. We've seen some recognition of the dire straits that our industry is in with the Federal Government's 2021 Innovation Fund, which English Australia is administering, offering grants of up to $150,000 to help colleges innovate their online and offshore delivery, but we still need more.”

The English Australia National ELICOS Market Report is funded by the Department of Education, Skills and Education and compiled by Bonard.

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