Scott Wade and Genevieve Abela at the opening of the GAELA/FELCA statistics and trends presentation
GAELA data shows language study healthy, but USA suffering

The USA is continuing to suffer a downturn in ELT business while most major language destinations are experiencing a more positive year, according to data and trends presented by national school associations at the annual GAELA presentation in the UK recently.

The Global Alliance of Education and Language Associations (GAELA) gathers the language school associations representing the major study destinations, as well as accreditation bodies and other education associations, and holds its annual AGM and open-to-the-public data presentation on the eve of the StudyTravel Alphe UK conference in London.


While most associations indicated either continuing positive trends or a recovery during 2017, the USA's ELT sector continues to struggle against a backdrop of a strong dollar, the removal or reduction of scholarship programmes and political instability.


Cheryl Delk Le-Good, Executive Director of EnglishUSA, said 70 per cent of members suffered a downturn last year, and added that 40 per cent of respondents to a recent association survey anticipated further declines this year, while an additional 20 per cent had no idea what to expect.


She said that membership was forecasted to contract during the current year due to closures and budget constraints. As a result of declines, she said a number of university-based members were considering or reconsidering agent usage.


Mary Reeves, Executive Director of USA-based accreditation body CEA, similarly reported that 61 per cent of accredited sites reported declines in student numbers in CEA's 2017 member survey. She added that average student weeks per centre declined from 14,321 in 2014 to 10,962 in 2016.


As revealed in StudyTravel Magazine's annual Global Market Reports on the ELT industry, the UK hosts the largest market share of incoming students. English UK Chief Executive, Sarah Cooper, commented that the association's members suffered three consecutive years of declining business between 2014 and 2016, but she said that "a major recovery was underway" in the current year.


She highlighted that Saudi Arabia has been a particularly strong market for UK schools, in contrast to a number of the other associations citing decreases in Saudi students due to cutbacks in the King Abdullah Scholarship Program (KASP).


The two ELT destinations that have posted consistent increases over recent years - Australia and New Zealand - both indicated that growth was continuing into 2017. Julian Wilson, English Australia board member, said that stays were getting longer and the current visa pipeline into the sector was strong. However, he added that the number of Elicos providers was also increasing rapidly, growing from 281 to around 350 in the last year with most of the new openings from vocational or multisector providers.


Kim Renner, Executive Director of English New Zealand, said that a slowing of growth was expected this year after a bumper 2016, but the first trimester had nonetheless returned an increase of 11 per cent. As previously reported, she explained that the introduction of work rights for medium-term language students "changed the Latin American market significantly".


Ireland was another ELT destination to register a significant increase in 2016, but CEO of Marketing English in Ireland, David O'Grady, warned that the growth came from the EU junior market, which was vulnerable to the attraction of the cheaper pound sterling in the UK.


The Maltese ELT sector is relatively stable, having experienced a student increase of 1.6 per cent in 2016, Feltom Executive Director, Genevieve Abela said. She advised that the industry is currently involved in debates over whether it should sit within tourism or education jurisdiction. The other ELT market represented at GAELA, South Africa, is on the way to recovery with hopes that the current year will match the previous sector peak of 2014, after the visa issues that have dampened previous years have subsided, Johannes Kraus, Chair of Education South Africa, said.


Of the non-ELT markets presenting at the GAELA meeting, Fedele, Español en España Executive Director, Ana Cózar, pointed to five consecutive years of growth for the association's schools, and said that the number of members increased by five schools to 89 in 2016, although visa issues remained a problem, with delays in China and Vietnam and denials in India presenting a challenge.


Eleri Maitland, Spokesperson for French language school association Groupement FLE, meanwhile, said that 2017 was "very buoyant" for the association's schools as it recovered from the impact of terrorist attacks in recent years. She added that student visas can now be issued for French langauage study, which has been a boost in the Chinese market, and said that the association was due to launch an accredited agent scheme soon.


Italian in Italy schools suffered a slight decline of three per cent in 2016, according to President, Pina Foti, although the association has seen a return of the Russian market, she said.


Collectively the 10 national language school associations that presented data welcomed some 1,105,417 language students in 2016.


Established in 2000, GAELA comprises national language school associations, multinational organisations such as IALC and Quality English, accreditation bodies and secondary school associations.


The GAELA presentation was delivered in tandem with the Federation of Education and Language Consultant Associations (FELCA), which presented national agency association data and trends. See our previous news story for details of this.



By Matthew Knott

News Editor