It is the latest in a long-running market report series jointly funded by English UK and the British Council, produced by independent market research provider BONARD. It departs from the usual format of a single country report to instead cover UK ELT’s biggest source region, Europe, in light of recent events including the pandemic and Brexit. It has been designed to help ELT centres, which have seen a £590m loss of revenue due to Covid-19, plan their recovery.
The report, Europe Future Outlook: Europe as a source market for UK ELT in 2021 and beyond, reveals that 62% of UK ELT providers see Europe as their dominant source of language learners and believe this is likely to continue. Until Covid-19, Europe was the key market source for UK ELT member centres, providing 60% of students and 38% of student weeks, despite concerns about the ending of free movement.
Over half (54%) of study travel agents surveyed by BONARD saw the UK as the primary study destination for their ELT students, while 29% believed it would give way to other destinations. The most common reason given was the additional costs from visas and health insurance. “The need to have a passport, rather than being able to travel on a national ID card as is the case until 1 October 2021, is not thought to be an issue. Longer-term students are seen as being more likely to choose other ELT destinations”,said Ivana Slobodnikova, senior research manager at BONARD.
Around half of educators and agents expected European student numbers to continue to decline, though agents suggested any introduction of work rights in the UK might not only reverse the trend, but increase demand by up to 30%. Work rights would appeal to the student group aiming to get practical work experience in the UK.
The report also suggests that junior students are likely to become younger: this would be most obvious in the 12-16 age band, which has already seen an increase in the proportion of 12- to 13-year-olds travelling.
“Accredited ELT centres have faced extreme challenges in the past 18 months. This research was commissioned to support them in their rebuilding efforts. The report reveals resilience and pragmatism on the part of educators and agents in navigating their recovery. This will take close collaboration and communication with international partners. English UK and the British Council are helping UK ELT achieve that,”said Jodie Gray, chief executive of English UK and Patricia Vickers, director of global sales, marketing & customer operations (English and Exams) at the British Council.
At a webinar launching the research, industry experts discussed the findings and offered their own perspectives. The panel was cautiously optimistic, with Andrew Mangion, CEO of EC English and Catrin Diamantino, CEO of Bell English, both anticipating a more robust short-term recovery, especially in 2022.
Krister Weidenhielm, of large pan-European student agency ELS, highlighted the removal of work rights for European students as the main Brexit issue – removing “something from the storytelling that makes the package of the UK”. However, while the panel saw Brexit as a short-term issue, with the impact being felt in the next 18 months, they agreed the UK would remain an attractive place for ELT students in the long-term.
David Brown, President and co-founder of Oxford International Education Group agreed with the report’s findings that agencies remain central to the recruitment of students to the UK, and all panellists agreed that good communication is central to recovery and growth in the European market.