StudyTravel Magazine: UK ELT recovered to three-quarters of pre-Covid level in 2023

The UK’s English language teaching sector recovered to around three-quarters of pre-Covid levels in 2023, according to the full-year report by association English UK, which also shows a record ratio of young learner students and a slower return for state sector providers.

May 17, 2024 Study Travel Magazine

Headline data: According to the 2023 report by English UK , the 320 member schools welcomed 343,324 full-time English language students in 2023, a 49 per cent increase compared with the previous year and a 76 per cent recovery against 2019 levels, as well as 17,193 part-time students. 

Student weeks, meanwhile, topped one million for the first time since before Covid-19, and there was a 19 per cent increase in face-to-face, full-time student weeks compared with the previous year to 1,153,868.

Jodie Gray , Chief Executive of English UK, said, “It’s great to have better news in this year’s student statistics. The story of 2023 is one of promising but steady recovery."

Junior/adult ratio: The junior segment accounted for 60 per cent of all students at English UK members in 2023 – a highest-ever proportion, surpassing the 54 per cent share in 2019.

The return of the junior segment was also reflected in the normalisation of average stay to pre-Covid levels. For private sector members, this has dropped from 7.9 weeks in 2021 to 3.2 weeks last year.

Recovery spread: English UK said that the recovery was more evenly distributed than in previous years, with 26 per cent of members exceeding 2019 student weeks last year, compared with only 13 per cent that managed that landmark in 2022.

However, there was a divergence in recovery between the private and public sector members of English UK. While the private sector reached 79 per cent of 2019 student weeks, the public sector centres only reached 27 per cent of pre-pandemic volumes, the association said.

English UK said the decline was partly due to structural changes in the state sector and added that it was working to support state sector members and maximise their potential for growth.

Private sector ELT schools: The private sector members of English UK taught 334,931 full-time students, a 55 per cent increase compared with 2022, and delivered 1,085,022 student weeks – up 24 per cent.

Italy returned as the top source market for private sector members with a 79 increase in student numbers and a 58 per cent rise in weeks.

Saudi Arabia accounted for the second-largest proportion of student weeks for the private sector ELT schools and increased by two per cent, followed by Spain (+27), Brazil (+29) and France (+7).

Juniors accounted for a record 60 per cent of all students in 2023 for English UK members.

State sector: State sector members taught 8,195 full-time students, a 20 per cent decrease compared with 2022, while student weeks declined by 28 per cent to 68,846.

For state sector members, China was the top source market, accounting for 29 per cent of student weeks, despite a 40 per cent decline on the previous year.

Saudi Arabia followed with a slight increase in weeks, followed by Japan (+37 per cent), Romania (-36) and Kuwait (-23).  South Korea, meanwhile, was a strong growth market, doubling weeks compared with 2022. 

Top growth markets: The largest year-on-year growth in student weeks came from Peru at 188 per cent, followed by Taiwan (124) and Colombia (108).

Regional spread: By region, London and South/Southeast England were the largest hosts, both accounting for 26 per cent of student weeks taught in 2023.

For cities outside of London, Brighton had the largest share of student weeks (10 per cent), followed by Manchester and Bournemouth (both seven), and Oxford and Cambridge on five per cent each.

Jodie said, “Global ELT is a maturing industry, with student numbers static or falling. It’s a zero-sum game. Destinations compete for a stable or shrinking pool of students. One destination’s gain is another’s loss.”

She called on the government to support the sector, with the release of the 2023 data coming days after English UK published a pre-election manifesto with six recommendations for the next administration.

“The government can make a huge difference to our success, as recent clampdowns in competitor markets have demonstrated. Right now, the UK’s approach is more welcoming than that in some of our competitor destinations. Canada and Australia are currently grappling with high visa refusal rates and caps on international student numbers,” Jodie said.

“These statistics not only help English UK members take individual marketing decisions but also demonstrate how and why targeted government support is needed.”

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