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Further growth for Irish ELT in 2016

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Irish ELT providers recorded a second consecutive year of strong growth in 2016, with overall enrolment increasing 11% year-over-year
  • ELT enrolment stands at 119,119 for the year, compared to 107,129 in 2015, with notable growth in the junior segment
  • The sector is now well on pace to reach national enrolment targets of 132,500 ELT students by 2020

Ireland is well on its way to meeting some ambitious growth goals for 2020. A new national strategy released in October 2016 set out targets for 33% growth in international enrolments in higher education as well as a 25% increase in English Language Teaching (ELT) numbers.

Full-year data for 2016, released this week by peak body Marketing English in Ireland (MEI), reveals that Ireland has now booked a second consecutive year of strong growth in ELT enrolments. Following on from strong growth in 2015 – where the sector saw a 10% increase in enrolment and where student weeks were up by 38% compared to 2014 – student numbers grew again in 2016, this time by 11% as total enrolment increased from 107,129 to 119,119 students year-over-year.

It appears, however, that overall student-week volumes did not grow significantly from 2015, with the average stay per student shrinking from six weeks in 2015 to 5.3 weeks last year. This likely reflects an underlying shift in the composition of ELT enrolment in Ireland due to strong growth in the junior segment in 2016. MEI reports “significant growth” in junior enrolments during the year.

“The focus for MEI has been to grow the market for international students coming to Ireland to study English and we are delighted that we have done that,” said MEI CEO David O’Grady. “Last year students from a total of 101 countries came to Ireland for quality English language education. This is an increase from the record number of countries in 2015, which stood at 89. In 2016, the largest number of students came from Italy, Spain and France and exactly 50% of the total numbers of international students were junior students (under seventeen) from the EU/EEA region.”

As in 2015, European Union/European Economic Area students continue to account for the lion’s share of ELT enrolments in Ireland, with roughly 78% of all students coming from Europe. Another 15% came from non-EU/EEA countries – including Brazil, Japan, and South Korea – for which visas are not required to enter Ireland. And the remaining 7% of students (about 8,000 in total) came from countries outside of Europe whose citizens require an Irish visa.

The nearly 120,000 ELT students enrolled in 2016 puts Ireland well on pace to reach its goal of 132,500 ELT enrolments by the first half of 2020. Indeed, Ireland’s growth over the last two years stands in sharp contrast to the relatively flat enrolment trend in the preceding years from 2010 through 2014 (where combined head count enrolment growth was limited to 10% over the four years).

Building on these recent-year results, the Irish government, and Irish ELT providers, continue to expand marketing and recruitment efforts abroad under the new national international education strategy. And they do so in a context of an improving competitive position for Ireland generally, which continues to earn additional market share in a global ELT market that is close to flat overall.

In addition to its proximity to important European markets, the relative affordability of Irish ELT programmes has improved in recent years due in part to changing exchange rates between the Euro, British pound, and many emerging market currencies. Most recently, the Irish government also extended the period – now for up to 24 months – during which foreign graduates of masters and doctoral programmes may remain and work in the country after their studies.

Mr O’Grady added, “Gratifying as last year was it is now over and we work with the challenges of 2017, and onwards. If we are to achieve the targets outlined in the Government strategy 2016-2020 for ELT then we need to devote energy and expertise to areas for growth, most of which lie in markets that are visa requiring for Ireland. As with all exporters we are very sensitive to currency fluctuations, fluid international political uncertainty, Brexit, changing destination trends, and wider security issues, therefore Ireland needs to be constantly alert and nimble in our responses to all challenges.”

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