UK ELT buoyant for 2023 after “bounce back year”
The UK’s English language sector is continuing on its “gradual” recovery, recording a 44% rise in student weeks in Q4 2022 compared with the previous year.
Total student weeks were up by 28,000, with the overall student week volume in the last quarter of 2022 reaching around 56% of 2019 levels. Providers in the country are optimistic for the year ahead, despite facing ongoing challenges around accommodation, staffing and the cost of living crisis.
The quarterly English UK statistics, produced in collaboration with BONARD, found that of the 235 teaching centre locations taking part in the survey, 101 teaching centre locations were operational and recorded a total of 92,411 student weeks.
Of that total number of student weeks, 87,877 were attributed to adults and 4,534 to juniors, English UK noted.
A fifth of student weeks came via direct bookings in the fourth quarter.
The five top adult source markets were Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Brazil, Japan and Turkey, while for juniors Spain, Italy, Germany, Thailand and Chile, made the top five.
Overall Q3 figures were up by over 200% compared to the previous year.
A total of 504,868 students studied with English UK members for 1,866,835 student weeks in 2018
The approximate 475,000 student weeks in 2022 is far from pre-Covid levels, but the sector is showing signs of recovery.
“The headline is, we’re back. The industry, especially from the trends we’re seeing in the UK for this summer, is starting to feel like it’s on the road to recovery. It’s the first year after Covid when things are busy again, it’s refreshing,” Callum Palmer, global sales director at Greenwich International Education, told The PIE.
“The Italian market, along with some other key European markets, has really come on from last year, especially for UK bookings. We are certainly rivalling pre-covid numbers of enquiries.”
Chairperson of International House World Organisation, Pete Hayes, noted that “it is clear that the appetite for international study travel only seems to have a heightened since the Covid restrictions have been relaxed”.
“In my view, the anticipated ‘pent up demand’ began to translate into larger numbers of students deciding to travel, back in June 2022. Whilst this was welcomed by the sector, there was a noticeable trend in students booking at the last minute, giving educators a much shorter lead-in time. The easing of UK visa regulations for Saudi students, whilst also welcome, only exacerbated this,” he said.
The English UK analysis found that top 10 source markets represented 67% of all student weeks, with Saudi Arabia ranking top in Q4 2022, with close to 19,000 student weeks.
Among the top 10 source countries, Kuwait was the only one not contributing “significant growth”, falling from the second-largest source market by total student weeks in Q4 2021 to sixth place in Q4 2022.
Managing director at Bayswater Education, Stephan Roussounis, highlighted that 2022 was “the bounce back year”.
“It was fantastic to see so many students return to the UK,” he said. “As was seen in many sectors dealing with international travel, there were challenges to ramping up operations for the first time in three years.”
Greenwich International is also growing its team to meet demand, especially in Latin America.
China is coming back, with the relaxation of re-entry rule, Palmer added. “Everyone is excited about that. We thought that was going to be next year, we’ve just added in three large groups from China for the summer.”
Despite juniors no longer being permitted to travel to the UK using ID cards, Palmer noted that Greenwich International seeing enrolment rise.
“We’re seeing growth despite things like the need for students to travel from the EU, instead of pre-Brexit when using their ID cards was the convenient and low-cost standard practice for a lot of families,” he explained.
Hayes listed the need for passports for EU junior groups among factors adversely affecting the recovery of the UK ELT market, together with travel anxiety due to the war in Ukraine and general cost of living inflation.
“Post Covid, people’s lives have changed, which has led to a reduced number of suitable homestay places being available throughout the UK,” he said.
“Increased demand for residential accommodation was partially driven by this as well as becoming more sought after by students. Another factor that hindered capacity was a difficulty finding suitable teaching and activity staff. The loss of freedom of movement, due to the deal negotiated by the UK government, as the UK left the EU, was certainly a driver here. So, availability of suitable staff and enough accommodation made meeting demand a challenge.”
Palmer detailed that UK providers are cooperating to find available accommodation for visiting students. Staffing, especially for summer camps, will be tricky, he added.
“The UK continues to represent a quality short-term language destination”
Bayswater also expects continued growth in 2023, but “schools will have a year of operations under their belt, building staffing and accommodation capacity”, Roussounis added.
“The challenge for many providers continues to be sourcing affordable quality accommodation over the summer periods. Many homestays have converted their rooms to a home office or prefer to let their spare room in the summer to AirBnB,” he explained.
“Australia and Canada vie for immigration focused international students, but the UK continues to represent a quality short-term language destination for hundreds of thousands of international students.
“Some markets still face visa approval challenges such as Turkey,” he added.