English UK's Student Statistics Report, launched at the association's annual conference on Thursday 19 May, showed the UK experienced a second year of decline, with an eight per cent decrease in student numbers and a 13 per cent drop in student weeks, and the first-ever downturn in the global demand for English learning abroad.
"English UK's international strategy has been and will continue to deliver more promotional activity than ever before. It is flexible and responsive. We are already incorporating many of the most important findings of this report into our plans," said Annie Wright, the association's deputy chief executive for business services.
Once the decline has been stalled, the ultimate aim is to return to overall growth, said Ms Wright, adding: "This cannot be achieved by English UK alone. We are working with government agencies and commercial partners to enable the UK sector to compete in an increasingly competitive global market."
She was confident, she said, that the leveraging of robust market intelligence and partnerships with brands such as the GREAT campaign - with which English UK ran a major student-facing campaign in Brazil last autumn and spring - would help UK English Language Teaching (ELT) to succeed.
With insight partner StudentMarketing, English UK has transformed the student statistics report during the past 18 months. It now includes increased detail, analysis and global benchmarking to be as useful as possible. Samuel Vetrak of StudentMarketing said: "We've created the analysis earlier than in previous years, so you can use it for planning. We've spent more time analysing and interpreting so you've got an easier life in using it.
"You need to look to find market opportunities, studying markets that could be good for you. It's not a shotgun approach but a rifle approach: you need to look and see where you need to spend marketing money."
2015 saw the first global downturn in the ELT market: reasons include demographics, that students are starting English lessons earlier and also being satisfied with a lower level of proficiency. Several competitor markets experienced declining student numbers, including Canada (-2 per cent), South Africa (-27 per cent) and Malta (-3 per cent). The UK market was also affected by the strengthening of the pound and visa policies. Ireland and Australia attracted rising student numbers, 10 per cent and 5 per cent respectively.
The report says leading growth markets are the Czech Republic, China and Kuwait, while top source markets were Italy, Spain, Saudi Arabia, France and Turkey. Libya, Russia and Italy showed the sharpest declines.
Around 535,485 students spent 2,047,733 weeks studying at English UK's 465 member centres in 2015. Results for state sector members were relatively stable, but private sector members received 42,038 fewer students who studied for 300,384 fewer weeks. Length of stay declined in private language centres to 5.6 weeks for adults and 2.9 for juniors. Almost a third (28 per cent) of all student weeks were taught in the London region.
English UK says the improved annual statistics report "is only the start". It has established an advisory committee of member centre representatives to inform the continuing development of its statistics and insight services.
"It is fitting that the UK, which leads the ELT world in so many ways, should be at the forefront when it comes to data collection and statistics," said Steve Phillips, chair of the English UK board, concluding: "It is armed with this knowledge that the sector can rise to face the challenges of the current environment."
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