Facts & figures

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ELT industry facts and figures 

We collect data about the students who come to study English in the UK to provide robust intelligence for our members and support our campaigning. 

We also conduct member surveys and commission research to assess the impact of policy changes and external events on the UK English language training (ELT) sector. Our insight partner is ESOMAR member, BONARD.

Who comes to study English in the UK?

Our annual student statistics reports give detailed information on who comes to study English in the UK.

The 2023 annual student statistics report showed that in 2022:

  • 239,576 English language students (225,641 full-time and 11,913 part-time) studied at our member centres - a 320% increase on 2021
  • Members taught 973,716 full-time student weeks – more than double the 2021 figures (+111%)
  • For the first time since the start of the pandemic, juniors returned in volume - up from 9% of students in 2021 to 49% in 2022
  • The top-20 source markets accounted for 82% of both student weeks and student numbers
  • The sector has recovered 60% of its 2019 full-time student week volume and 51% of its student numbers.

Top 20 source markets for UK ELT in 2022

1. Saudi Arabia
2. Italy
3. Spain
4. China
5. France

6. Japan
7. Brazil
8. Switzerland
9. Kuwait
10. Turkey
11. Germany
12. South Korea
13. Thailand
14. Oman
15. Chile
16. Argentina
17. Mexico
18. Colombia
19. Ukraine
20. Poland

While post-pandemic recovery is underway, in 2022 it was uneven and, for the UK's English-language learning sector, was weaker than the rebound experienced in key competitor countries. The UK's traditional markets in Europe are not recovering strongly enough.

What was the industry like before the pandemic and the end of freedom of movement?

In the years before the pandemic, people travelled from over 100 countries to learn or improve their English in the UK. In 2019 over 535,000* international students came to study English in the UK, making it the world's most popular UK ELT destination. Over half** (54%) were under 18 years of age. 

*2019 figure includes 508,600 full-time students and 24,400 part-time students
**Based on full-time students

Top 20 source markets for UK ELT in 2019

1. Italy
2. China
3. Saudi Arabia
4. Spain
5. France
6. Japan
7. Turkey
8. Switzerland
9. South Korea
10. Brazil
11. Germany
12. Russia
13. Thailand
14. Kuwait
15. Colombia
16. Oman
17. Poland
18. Taiwan
19. Romania
20. Argentina

What is the value of ELT to the UK economy?

In 2018, an English UK report on the value of UK ELT found that:

  • the UK ELT sector generated around £1.4bn income for the UK each year
  • around 35,700 jobs were supported by ELT, 19,300 in ELT and the remainder in associated sectors such as tourism
  • the report noted that ordinary families benefited culturally and financially from welcoming students into their homes
  • 80 per cent of students told us that they planned to return to the UK

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In September 2020, VisitBritain published a report on inbound visitors who take an English language course. The report found that in 2018:

  • 614,000 visitors – 1.5% of the total number of visitors - took an English language course during their stay
  • English langugage students accounted for 3.5% of visitor spend
  • Over 2 in 5 visitors coming to the UK to study take an English language course
  • English langugage students stayed for three times longer than average visitors, spending over twice that of other travellers
  • The report concluded: "This group is a key target for UK tourism due to the value of their visits, the opportunity to encourage repeat visits to the UK for young travellers, and the English language training industry's contribution to the UK economy."

Read the reports:

If you are an English UK member, visit our member campaigning resources page for more useful facts and to download our campaigning toolkit. 

How has Covid-19 and the end of Freedom of Movement affected the UK ELT industry?

The impact of the pandemic on UK ELT student numbers deepened in 2021. The year began with a strict lockdown and, although our quarterly QUIC data showed student numbers improved through 2021, Covid restrictions prevented summer 2021's hoped-for bounce back.
Our annual student statistics report, published May 2022, showed that: 
  • In 2021, English UK members welcomed about a tenth of the number of students they had pre-Covid (in 2019)
  • Following an 84% decline in student numbers in 2020, numbers decreased by a further 36% in 2021.

Our Covid-19 impact report Members Corporate members, published in March 2021, found:

  • An estimated £590m overall loss in gross revenue in 2020, for the entire English UK membership 
  • 91% of UK ELT jobs were affected, with 54% of the workforce released (an additional 18% of staff were furloughed)
  • English UK member centres were not optimistic about a recovery in 2021: 27% anticipate no recovery, 36% anticipate reaching 20% of their pre Covid-19 business volume, 29% anticipate regaining 40% of their pre Covid-19 business volume

The end of freedom of movement, in September 2021, has also had a major impact. In 2019:

  • 1.2 million EU children under 18 visited the UK as part of a youth group or school trip to attend an English language school, visit the sights, or take part in a cultural or sporting event.
  • Collectively this market contributed over £1 billion annually to the UK economy and supported over 17,200 UK jobs in every part of the UK.
  • The EU was also the most important market for UK ELT, with over 50% of students. Most travelled on their ID cards: few owned passports as they could travel throughout Europe without one. 
The end of freedom of movement killed this market. 2022 research by English UK, the Tourism Alliance, UKinbound,  ETOA and the British Educational Travel Association (BETA) found the end of ID card travel caused an 83% decline in EU student group visitors to the UK in 2022, losing around £875m and 14,500 jobs. 

Read the reports:

 Our data in more detail: