New student statistics report: "UK ELT's slow but steady recovery could accelerate with the right support"
Post-pandemic recovery accelerated in 2022, with a doubling of student weeks and an "impressive" three-fold rise in numbers, according to our 2023 student statistics report.
Overall, our member centres recovered 60% of 2019 student weeks and 51% of full-time student numbers last year, with juniors rising to almost 50% of the total.
Patchy and uneven recovery
But recovery is patchy, even in the private sector where it is concentrated, and the UK is lagging behind key competitors. A sixth of private providers exceeded their 2019 volumes - but a third achieved under half. State sector providers taught a third fewer student weeks than in 2021, and 22% fewer students. It is "crucial", warns the report, that all stakeholders including government continue to work together.
"We note that the overall pace of recovery in the UK appears to be slightly lagging behind that of key competitors, mostly because its traditional markets in Europe are not recovering strongly enough," writes Patrik Pavlacic, chief intelligence officer of BONARD, our intelligence partner.
"The uneven recovery and market developments in China and Russia have clear implications for student recruitment strategy-building. In this context, it is prudent for the sector to combine a focus on source markets that are experiencing a swift recovery and those which might not be rebounding as fast, but offer long-term potential for the UK ELT sector… 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."
Pockets of excellent but also worrying news
Jodie Gray, our chief executive, 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." She 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."
This year's student statistics report includes new analysis giving more detail about the market and recovery. It includes a benchmarking of 2022 student volume against pre-pandemic 2019, and the level of recovery achieved by individual providers. A new regional analysis found London was once more the top study destination, with Brighton and Manchester the next two biggest cities.
Overall, English UK member centres taught 239,576 full and part-time students, compared with 535,049 in 2019.
Some source markets experiencing a swift recovery
The report identifies source markets experiencing a swift recovery – such as Argentina, Chile and Mexico, and also those which are not rebounding as fast but offer long-term potential for the UK ELT sector. These are Brazil and Colombia as well as European countries where students have become likelier to choose the UK's competitors as their study destination.
2022 in numbers: what the student statistics report tell us
- In 2022, English UK's 329 member centres taught 225,641 full-time English language students, for a combined total of 973,716 student weeks. 93 English UK member centres taught part-time English language courses to an additional 11,913 students.
- Total student weeks were more than double the 2021 figures (+111%), while student numbers showed an impressive 320% increase. This growth was driven mainly by the private sector. These figures do not reflect fluctuation in English UK membership.
- The absolute overall year-on-year growth in student weeks was driven mainly by the fastest growing source markets: Argentina (+1329%), Brazil (+567%), Italy (+502%) and Ukraine (+413%). China and Russia, traditionally key markets for UK ELT, sent fewer student weeks (-25% and -20%, respectively).
- From data from the 308 centres reporting in both 2019 and 2022, the sector has now recovered 60% of its 2019 student week volume and 51% of its student numbers. Recovery rate was uneven, as 13% of providers exceeded their 2019 student weeks.
- The mode of tuition for most students (97%) had reverted to being face-to-face
- For the first time since the start of the pandemic, juniors returned in volume, making up 49% of all students, compared to 9% in 2021.
- London was back as the top study destination in 2022, accounting for 29% of all student weeks.
- After London, cities with the highest share of student weeks were Brighton (9%), Manchester (9%), Bournemouth (8%) and Oxford (6%).
State sector member centres
- The 34 state sector member centres taught 10,175 full-time English language students, a 22% decrease compared to 2021. They delivered 95,077 student weeks, 33% fewer than 2021. These percentage changes do not reflect fluctuations in the size of the membership.
- English UK's state sector members additionally taught 5,875 part-time English language students (+20% increase on 2021).
- From like-for-like data from the 32 state member centres reporting in both 2019 and 2022, on average student weeks have recovered to 35% and student numbers to 43% of pre-pandemic levels.
- Adults made up 97% of the state sector members' student weeks, similar to 2019 (98%).
- Emergency remote modes of teaching continued for longer than in the private sector with 32% of students studying online.
- Adult students' courses dropped from a high of 11.6 weeks in 2020 to 9.6 weeks, lower than the pre-pandemic average of 10.9 weeks. The average stay for junior students more than doubled to 5.0 weeks.
- China remained the top source market for the state sector with 38% of student weeks, despite a drop of 36%. Next biggest markets were Saudi Arabia (9%), Romania (8%), Japan (5%) and Kuwait (4%).
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Private sector member centres
- The 295 private sector member centres collectively taught 215,466 full-time students (+430% increase compared to 2021) and delivered 878,639 student weeks (+174% increase on 2021). These percentage changes do not reflect fluctuations in English UK membership.
- From like-for-like data from the 274 private sector centres reporting in 2019 and 2022, the average student week volume recovered to 66% of 2019 levels and student numbers reached 52%.
- 41 private providers exceeded their 2019 student weeks, a further 24 experienced 80 - 100% recovery but 99 providers recovered less than 50% of their 2019 volumes.
- Juniors made a dramatic comeback in 2022, making up 51% of all students compared with 11% in 2021. 190 private sector centres ran junior ELT programmes.
- The average stay for adults and juniors combined was 4.1 weeks, another return to pre-pandemic norms.
- For the second consecutive year, Saudi Arabia was the biggest source market for private sector members with 15% of total student weeks. Traditionally strong Western European countries experienced a rebound: Italy (12%), Spain (6%), France (5%).