Total student weeks increased by 28,000, with total student weeks in the final quarter of 2022 reaching around 56% of 2019 levels. Providers in the country are optimistic about the year ahead, despite continuing accommodation, staffing and cost of living challenges.
UK Quarterly English Statistics, produced in partnership with BONARD, found that of the 235 learning center sites surveyed, 101 learning center sites were in operation and recorded a total of 92,411 student weeks.
Of this total number of student weeks, 87,877 were credited to adults and 4,534 to juniors, English UK noted.
A fifth of student weeks came through direct bookings in the fourth quarter.
The top five source markets for adults were Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Brazil, Japan and Turkey, while for juniors Spain, Italy, Germany, Thailand and Chile rounded out the top five.
Overall figures for the third quarter were up more than 200% compared to the previous year.
A total of 504,868 students studied with UK English members for 1,866,835 student weeks in 2018
Around 475,000 student weeks in 2022 are far from pre-Covid levels, but the sector is showing signs of recovery.
“The headline is, we’re back.” The industry, especially from the trends we are seeing in the UK this summer, is starting to feel like it is on the way to recovery. It’s the first year post-Covid that it’s busy again, it’s refreshing,” Callum Palmer, global business director of Greenwich International Education, told The PIE.
“The Italian market, along with some other key European markets, has really expanded since last year, especially for UK bookings. We’re definitely catching up to pre-Covid inquiries.”
The chairman of the International House World Organisation, Pete Hayes, noted that “it is clear that the appetite for international study trips only seems to have increased since the Covid restrictions were eased”.
“In my view, the anticipated ‘pent up demand’ has started to translate into more students choosing to travel as early as June 2022. While this has been welcomed by the sector, there has been a noticeable trend in students booking at the last minute, giving educators a much shorter preparation time. The relaxation of UK visa regulations for Saudi students, while also welcome, has only made it worse,” he said.
The UK English analysis found that the top 10 source markets accounted for 67% of all student weeks, with Saudi Arabia topping the list with almost 19,000 student weeks in Q4 2022.
Among the top 10 source countries, Kuwait was the only country that did not contribute “significant growth”, falling from the second largest source market by total student weeks in Q4 2021 to sixth in Q4 2022.
Bayswater Education CEO Stephan Roussounis highlighted that 2022 was a “bounce back year”.
“It was fantastic to see so many students returning to the UK,” he said. “As seen in many international travel industries, for the first time in three years there was a need to speed up operations.”
Greenwich International is also expanding its team to meet demand, particularly in Latin America.
China is coming back with a relaxation of the re-entry rule, Palmer added. “Everyone is excited about it. We thought it would be next year, we just added three big groups from China for the summer.”
Despite juniors no longer being allowed to travel to the UK using ID cards, Palmer noted that Greenwich International has seen an increase in entries.
“We’re seeing growth despite things like the need for students to travel from the EU, rather than pre-Brexit using their ID cards being the convenient and cheap standard practice for many families,” he explained.
Hayes cited the need for passports for EU junior groups as factors weighing on the recovery of the UK ELT market, along with travel concerns due to the war in Ukraine and general cost-of-living inflation.
“People’s lives have changed post-Covid, leading to a reduction in the number of suitable homestay places available across the UK,” he said.
“Increased demand for residential accommodation has been partly due to this and also because it has become more sought after by students. Another factor hindering capacity was the difficulty in finding suitable teaching and active staff. The loss of freedom of movement as a result of the deal negotiated by the UK government when the UK left the EU was certainly a driver here. The availability of suitable staff and sufficient accommodation therefore made meeting the demand a challenge.”
Palmer said UK providers were working together to find affordable accommodation for visiting students. Staffing, especially for summer camps, will be difficult, he added.
“The UK continues to be a quality short-term language destination”
Bayswater also expects continued growth in 2023, but “schools will have a year of operations, building staff and accommodation capacity,” Roussounis added.
“The challenge for many providers is still to ensure affordable quality accommodation in summer. Many families in families have converted their rooms into a home office or prefer to AirBnB their spare room in the summer,” he explained.
“Australia and Canada compete for international students for immigration, but the UK continues to be a quality short-term language destination for hundreds of thousands of international students.
“Some markets are still facing visa approval issues, such as Turkey,” he added.