StudyTravel Magazine: UK ELT reached half of pre-Covid levels in 2022, calls for support

English UK is calling for more support for the sector from government after the association’s data shows that centres had a three-fold increase in students last year with strong growth from several markets, but were still only at around half of pre-pandemic student numbers.

May 12, 2023 StudyTravel Magazine

Student numbers: The Student Statistics Report 2022 released today by English UK shows that there were 239,576 students hosted last year, a 320 per cent increase compared with 2021, but still well below the total of 535,049 students enrolled in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

Among the 309 English UK members that reported data in 2019 and 2022, the recovery in student numbers last year stood at around 51 per cent of 2019 volumes.

Weeks: Student weeks, meanwhile, more than doubled from the previous year to 973,716 in 2022, and were around 60 per cent of 2019 levels.

Source markets: By student numbers, Italy returned as the top source country with 48,986 students, an increase of 1,348 per cent compared with the previous year, followed by Spain with an almost ten-fold increase to 21,165 students, Germany (18,363, +844 per cent), France (17,060, +414 per cent) and Saudi Arabia (13,360, +125 per cent). China was the only top 20 source market to decline in student numbers in 2022.

By student weeks, Saudi Arabia was the top source country with 142,088 weeks delivered, followed by Italy (108,890), Spain (57,515), China (52,074) and France (48,900).

londonLondon was the largest host region in 2022.
The largest year-on-year growth in terms of student weeks came from Argentina at 1,329 per cent, followed by Brazil (567 per cent), Italy (502) and Ukraine (413).

However, China and Russia – both traditionally strong markets for the UK ELT sector – had 25 per cent and 20 per cent fewer weeks respectively in 2022 than in the previous year. Providers will be hoping for some recovery in Chinese student numbers at least in the current year, following the country’s relaxation of border controls in January.

Patrik Pavlacic, Chief Intelligence Officer at Bonard, English UK’s research partner for the statistics, said that the UK’s recovery appeared to be lagging behind competitors because traditional markets in Europe had not returned strongly.
2019-2022 recovery of markets: Looking at recovery level of student weeks, the authors said that only Kuwait and Ukraine among the top 20 source countries exceeded 2019 levels in 2022, although Mexico (96 per cent), Oman (92), Argentina (91), and Brazil (85) came close.

Among European markets, Switzerland (84 per cent) and Germany (82) have posted the largest student weeks recovery, while France (62), Spain (57) and Italy (47) are further away from 2019 levels.

chart11The recovery 2022 vs 2019 in student weeks of the UK’s top 20 source markets. Source – English UK/Bonard.

Jodie Gray , Chief Executive of English UK, said, “These are the figures we’ve been awaiting, answering the crucial question about how the UK is recovering from the pandemic despite immigration changes making it harder for our biggest markets to travel here. Our quarterly statistics had already told us the story is positive overall and that our members’ hard work is largely paying off. But there are pockets of excellent and worrying news and the loss of ID card travel means it’s hard to see when and whether our major EU markets can fully recover.”

Juniors: The junior segment accounted for 49 per cent of all students enrolled in 2022, a distinct increase from only nine per cent of students in 2021 and close to more typical levels. In the years prior to the pandemic, the junior segment grew to represent more than half of the UK’s students.

English UK highlighted that the recovery was patchy across the sector – with a sixth of private providers exceeding 2019 volumes last year, but one third reaching less than half of 2019 levels. Meanwhile, state sector providers taught 10,175 students, 22 per cent fewer than in 2021.

Regions: London restored it position as the largest host region, accounting for 29 per cent of student weeks, followed by the South and South Eastern England (25) and Northern England (18).

After London, Brighton and Manchester were the next largest host cities of ELT students with nine per cent each, followed by Bournemouth (eight) and Oxford (six).

argentinaArgentina was the largest year-on-year growth market by student weeks.
Looking ahead, Patrik said, “The continued coordination of stakeholders, which include the government, and their targeted marketing efforts in prospective target markets will be crucial in the coming year, and if such coordination is achieved, we firmly believe that the ELT sector will be able to speed up its recovery.”

English UK recently released a position paper for government, where it proposed nine measures to support the recovery of the ELT sector and help the UK to restore its position as the most popular destination. These include a group travel scheme to end the ID card travel problem for European juniors, expansion of the youth mobility scheme and the restoration of work rights for long-term language students.

Jodie added, “I’m so proud of what our industry has achieved in difficult circumstances. We will continue to support our members’ hard work and innovation with marketing drives such as the return of the China Roadshow and StudyWorld London and campaigning for vital tweaks to the immigration system to make UK study easier for junior groups and more attractive for other students.”

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