English language teaching centres in the UK enjoyed a business upturn in 2017, following three years of decline.
English UK's student statistics data shows that student weeks increased by five per cent and student numbers rose 14 per cent to 497,028, despite the number of member centres dropping by 13.
The UK has strengthened its status as the world's most popular destination for junior English language students, with a 27 per cent year-on-year growth in this group of students in privately-owned centres, where they account for almost a third of student weeks.
But the details reveal a contrast in the fortunes of state and private sector centres. The private sector experienced 16 per cent year-on-year growth in student numbers to 465,542, while student weeks grew nine per cent to 1,606,280. By contrast, the state sector saw both student weeks and numbers drop by 12 per cent.
This is the first year that detailed information has been collected from the state sector, making source market information available for both sectors. They are very different: the top five sending markets for the private sector were Italy, Saudi Arabia, Spain, China and Turkey, while for the state sector they were China, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Poland and South Korea.
"We're delighted that for many of our members, their hard work and innovation has paid off," said Sarah Cooper, chief executive of English UK. "They have taken advantage of the favourable exchange rate and built on that to attract students from growth and new markets.
"But it appears that the state sector has not been able to take advantage of these factors in the same way, whether because of its sending markets or the specific challenges faced by its members, particularly FE colleges, in recent years. We hope that the extra level of detail we can provide from this year on the state sector will help them and us to support their recovery."
She added: "A third of our membership are in our QUIC (Quarterly Intelligence Cohort) student statistics scheme, which gives them detailed marketing information weeks after the end of each quarter, and we believe they are making much more use of the continually-improving intelligence we provide."
Patrik Pavlacic, head of research at StudentMarketing which analyses the English UK data, said there had been very positive developments.
"Seeing some key source markets growing this year is a very positive development for the UK, and it's not only traditional markets but also markets in Latin America and Asia where we saw the UK being under-represented.
"We think the member access to the QUIC scheme – which enables them to see data and emerging trends on a more frequent basis – is allowing them to adjust their strategies throughout the year. In addition, English UK as an association seems to be well established and overseas campaigns, such as the English is GREAT one in Brazil which was tailored to prospective students, help position the UK as one of the leading study destinations in the world. I attribute growth not only to positive fluctuations in currency, but also to these orchestrated marketing efforts."
London and Scotland enjoyed particularly strong growth, with 11 per cent year-on-year growth in student weeks. Language teaching chains also performed well, with 15 per cent year-on-year growth.
Other highlights include private sector data showing the first year of growth in Europe since 2012 (apart from a minor upturn in 2014), and a 27.3 per cent rise in Eastern Europe's student numbers. Latin America also rose, putting on over a quarter in student weeks and just under a quarter in student numbers. Russian student numbers rose 63.1 per cent, with 45.3 per cent extra student weeks.
In the state sector:
- Sixty-seven FE colleges and universities taught 31,486 of students for 277,888 student weeks.
- Ten per cent of students were juniors.
- Average course length was 8.8 weeks, 9.5 weeks for adults.
- The top five source countries were China (42 per cent of student weeks), Saudi Arabia (8 per cent), Japan (8 per cent), Poland (6 per cent) and South Korea (4 per cent).
- 71 per cent of students were on Tier 4 visas.
In the private sector:
- 55 per cent of students were juniors
- Adults stayed on average 5.3 weeks (similar to last year) with a slight decrease in junior courses from two to 1.9 weeks.
- Top five sending markets were Italy (16.5 of total student weeks), Saudi Arabia (8.4 per cent), Spain (7.1 per cent), China (6.1 per cent) and Turkey (6.1 per cent).
- The biggest growth came from Italy (+41,223 student weeks), Brazil (+21,646) and Turkey (+14,722), while Saudi Arabia (-6,819 student weeks), Kuwait (-3,435 student weeks) and the United Arab Emirates (-2,480) registered the steepest decrease.
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