Last updated: 6 October 2020
Facts and figures on the UK ELT industry
English UK is the authority on the UK English language teaching (ELT) industry. We research the value of UK ELT and run sector-leading data schemes that have transformed the insight available to our members and our industry.
We produce an annual student statistics report, quarterly data cohort (QUIC), practical reports on source markets with the British Council and commission special reports as needed.
The UK ELT industry in 2019
Students studying English language courses at English UK member centres rose by 1% in 2019, the third consecutive year of incremental increase. As one of a very few destinations to witness an increase in student numbers, the UK outperformed the global average, consolidating its position as the most popular place to study English in the world.
UK's overall student weeks stabilised, despite a downward global trend in length of stay for English language students.
Source: English UK, 2019; year-on-year comparison is based on data from centres reporting in both 2018 and 2019
The English UK annual student statistics reports are prepared by our insight partner Bonard, to support our members and the wider UK ELT sector with robust and sophisticated market intelligence. These reports show trends in UK ELT source markets, set in the broader global market context. The 2020 edition is an important benchmarking tool, providing a pre-Covid-19 snapshot of the industry.
The 2020 report shows:
- In 2019 English UK member centres taught 508,614 full-time international English language students, a 1% increase over 2018
- That's 1.84 million student weeks
- In addition, over 24,000 part-time students studied at English UK member centres
- Under-18s represented 54% of all enrolments and 27% of the total student weeks
- With one in four weeks spent in the Capital, London remained the most popular UK destination for incoming ELT students.
- The North had the largest year-on-year gain, attracting 25,877 more student weeks.
- The region with the fastest rate of growth was Central England, boosting its students weeks by 21% (up 13,070).
- Non-EU countries sent 43% of all students and generated 65% of all student weeks
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What countries send English language students to the UK?
People come to the UK from over 100 countries to learn or improve their English. In 2019, 84% of all student weeks and 86% of students were from the top 20 source markets for UK ELT.
Source: English UK, 2019; n=408 member centres
Top 20 source markets for UK ELT in 2019
3. Saudi Arabia
9. South Korea
This list remained largely unchanged from 2018. Only Romania was new to these top 20 rankings, entering at the expense of Chile.
However, at the macro level, whilst a number of Asian and Middle Eastern countries increased their market share, most European source markets declined.
The average length of stay for a non-EU student (at 5.4 weeks), was considerably longer than that of EU students (2.2 weeks), highlighting further the increasing contribution non-EU countries make to the UK's overall number of student weeks.
Source: English UK Annual Student Statistics Report 2020
Do students come from the same countries all year round?
Data from our quarterly intelligence cohort shows how the balance of these source markets changes slightly over the seasons.
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What age are English language students in the UK?
Most English language students are juniors (i.e. under 18s) but, at less than two weeks, their average course length is much shorter than the average adult's stay.
In a private language centres the average course length for an adult English language student is 4.9 weeks, whereas at our state sector members it is 10.9 weeks. In 2019 juniors represented 54% of all enrolments but 27% of the total student weeks.
Source: English UK, 2019; n=413 member centres
The proportion of junior and adult students changes quarter to quarter.
Data from our quarterly intelligence cohort shows the number of juniors is the highest in the summer (the third quarter of the year) with a ratio of 64% adult to 36% junior student weeks. In the first two quarters of the year the ratio is around 87%:13% and 80%:20% respectively.
Adults also dominate in the fourth quarter, accounting for 95% of student weeks.
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What is the value of ELT to the UK economy?
In 2018 English UK commissioned an economic impact report on what English language students contribute to the UK:
The report found that UK ELT generates around £1.4bn in export earnings for the UK each year. Each student's net fiscal contribution to the UK economy in 2016/2017 was £216. Overall, these 550,000 language students supported around 30,600 jobs in ELT centres, the wider supply chain and tourism and transport.
Ordinary families benefit culturally and financially from welcoming students into their homes, often sparking lifelong friendships circling the world.
And there are wider benefits too. 80% of students told us they planned to return to the UK after their courses ended, for travel or further study.
Some benefits are hard to quantify: most students will go home with warm feelings about the UK which they share with friends and family, perhaps encouraging trading and other contacts with us as they advance in their careers.
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Visit Britain's data on Inbound Visitors who take an English language course
Visit Britain added a new question to the International Passenger Survey in 2018, which enabled a new report on visitors who come to the UK to study English, released in September 2020.
- In 2018, 614,000 visitors to the UK took an English language course during their stay
- They were the source of 3.5% of visitor spend that year, and 4.1% of nights spent in the UK
- Over 2 in 5 visitors coming to the UK to study take an English language course
- This group stays for three times more nights than the average visitor, which results in an overall spend per visit that is over twice that of other travellers
The report's concluding statement:
"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."
How has Covid-19 impacted on the English language teaching sector in the UK?
The Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK ELT sector early, with travel from key source markets China and Italy disrupted in February and travel restrictions in place globally since early spring. Covid-19 has directly impact the growth that the UK was forecast to enjoy in 2020 and caused over half a billion pounds a loss in revenue for the first three quarters of 2020.
This was shown in an English UK commissioned report on the extent of the impact of Covid-19 on English UK member centres. The research, carried out by international education research specialists Bonard in June, shows how badly members have been affected.
We are using this report to support our government lobbying, including in our policy paper, Teaching English to the world: how the government can help kickstart UK ELT after Covid-19.
Note: Q3 2020 represents a forecast
Source: Bonard survey of English UK member centres, n=145
Covid-19 impact report key findings
- Likely £510m direct revenue loss for the first three quarters of 2020
- Huge impact on jobs - 7% working as usual, almost all seasonal staff (46% of ELT centre employees) have been released, while 37% have been furloughed and 10% put on reduced hours or pay
- Huge fall in student mobilty - centres reported that they were facing an 82% fall in student numbers in comparison with their Q1-Q3 2019 student intake.
This represents the impact on the ELT centres only, and not the wider effects of the loss of students' leisure spending on the UK economy and employment.
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