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Ireland: ELT student numbers down but weeks reach a record high

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
    • Largely due to softer numbers from European sending markets, total enrolment in Ireland’s English Language Training sector fell off by nearly 5% in 2018
    • However, with the longer average stays recorded from key non-EU markets, notably Brazil, total student weeks increased by more than 5% and reached a new record high last year

After a few years of steady increases in student numbers, enrolment growth in Ireland’s ELT (English Language Training) sector cooled off last year. There were 121,462 students enrolled in Irish ELT programmes in 2018, down nearly 5% from the year before. Total student weeks, however, reached 806,503 – representing both a new record high and year-over-year growth of more than 5%.

These are among the key findings from the English Language Training 2018 Student Profile report released in April 2019 by Marketing English in Ireland (MEI), the country’s peak ELT body. The report reflects survey responses or other enrolment data from all 67 schools that made up the MEI membership last year.

The following tables provide more detail – and year-to-year comparisons – for both student numbers and student weeks.

Enrolment in MEI member programmes, 2014-2018. Source: MEI

Student weeks reported by MEI members, 2014–2018
Student weeks reported by MEI members, 2014-2018. Source: MEI

As the tables highlight, junior numbers (including stage programmes for closed groups) held fairly steady in 2018, but the number of adult learners, especially those from within the EU, were down more sharply.

Overall, nearly three in four students came from EU (and/or European Economic Area) countries. Another 20% arrived from non-EU countries – such as Brazil and Japan – where students do not require visas to pursue their studies in Ireland. The remaining 7% came from non-EU countries where students are required to obtain a visa for studies in Ireland, such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, and China.

“There are a few reasons why EU/EEA student numbers to MEI schools decreased in 2018,” says MEI CEO David O’Grady. “Italy sent fewer PON students in 2018, and many EU/EEA countries have upgraded and fine-tuned their English language teaching so that fewer students need to travel abroad for General ELT purposes.”

The continuing importance of the Italian market remain clear, however. Even with fewer PON scholarship-supported students last year, Italy remains by far the largest EU sending market for Irish ELT centres.

Leading EU sending markets for Irish ELT programmes, 2018. Source: MEI

In spite of those softer EU numbers in 2018, total student weeks for the sector were buoyed by strong growth from non-EU markets. This was especially the case for markets, such as Brazil, Mexico, and Japan, where students do not need a visa to study in Ireland.

Leading non-EU senders (without visa requirement) for Irish ELT programmes, 2018. Source: MEI

As the chart indicates, roughly six in ten students from non-EU markets without a visa requirement were from Brazil. Those students – as do those from many of the non-EU sending markets – tend to book for longer study periods and this is what has driven the total student weeks reported by MEI members to new record levels in 2018.

The average stay for EU students in 2018 was 2.4 weeks, which compares to 20 weeks for non-EU students with no visa requirement and just under 12 weeks for non-EU students with a visa requirement.

“A significant number of the long-term students in MEI schools in 2018 were Brazilian,” concurs Mr O’Grady. “Those students keep waiting for the economic and employment situation in Brazil to improve and so decide to study longer and to avail of the concession to part-time work that is available in Ireland.”

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