Sarah Cooper, Chief Executive of English UK, at the opening welcoming session.
Further losses for UK ELT sector in 2016
The UK's ELT sector experienced a further decline in 2016, with an 11 per cent decrease in student numbers and a 13 per cent drop in student weeks, according to statistics released by association English UK.

The research, which was undertaken by StudentMarketing, was revealed at the English UK Annual Conference and AGM in May, and showed there were approximately 476,920 students at the 441 English UK member centres in 2016, down from 535,485 in 2015.


This represented 1,787,380 student weeks, a decline on the 2015 figure of 2,047,733.


"[The industry] has already been undergoing seismic structural shifts as it matures, with competition between host countries coming into ever-sharper focus," said Sarah Cooper, Chief Executive of English UK, in the report. "To this, we can now add the uncertainty created by external factors including the UK's exit from the European Union, elections in Europe and 'Trumpism'."


Samuel Vertrak, CEO of StudentMarketing, who presented the data, noted that while there was revived interest in the UK in Q4 of 2016 due to a more favourable exchange rate, 2016 was the third consecutive year of decline for the UK's ELT sector.


The data was divided by private and state sector, with 368 and 73 members respectively.


In the private sector, there were large declines from the traditional core markets of Italy (-12.5 per cent) and Spain (-17.2 per cent), both of which recorded increases in neighbouring Ireland last year, suggesting the strong pound at the beginning of 2016 was a decisive factor.


However, both countries remained in the top five source countries, with Italy staying on top with a 15.2 per cent share of the total student weeks, followed by Saudi Arabia (9.6 per cent), Spain (7.5), France (5.9), and China (5.8), making its debut in the top five.


The top 20 source markets accounted for 85 per cent of all student weeks, as well as student numbers, a slight increase from 84 per cent in 2015.


However, only four countries in the top 20 increased in student weeks from the previous year: Saudi Arabia (16.6 per cent); China (3.5 per cent); Kuwait in 12th place, with a 25.4 per cent rise; and Argentina, in 19th place, which jumped by 26.2 per cent.


Recognising these important growth markets, English UK recently held a regional fair in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in April, and has a roadshow in China planned for later this year.


Complementing the data, Annie Wright, Deputy Chief Executive of English UK, said, "Mexico held steady while Brazil and Colombia continued to fall: domestic politics and economics, along with the perception of unsympathetic UK visa policies, continue to affect demand."


Meanwhile, for the first time, the UK had more junior students than adults in the private sector in 2016. Juniors represented a 51 per cent share of the total student numbers, compared with 49 per cent of adult students. As a response to the growing trend of young learners, the report stated that juniors were taught at 276 private sector members, 18 more than in 2015.


In her opening talk, Sarah noted that 2016 had been a tough year, but that the association aimed to "refocus, revaluate and restructure", while driving quality and professional development.


She added that the UK's departure from the European Union could never eradicate years of shared history and heritage between the UK and Europe, and that English UK was open to partnerships and working together with other English language school associations to keep ELT alive.


"The more joined we are, the stronger we are," she said.


The English UK data was presented at the English UK Annual Conference and AGM in Bristol, UK, on May 9-10, 2017. See Grapevine for a gallery of photos from the event.


By Georgina Deacon
Staff Journalist