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Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
17th Mar 2021

Latest data release measures pandemic’s impact on Australia’s ELICOS sector in 2020

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • A new survey finds that ELICOS enrolments fell by -68% in Q4 2020 (compared to the same quarter in 2019) while student weeks declined by -72%
  • Full-year data indicates that student numbers fell by -47% in 2020

English Australia recently released updated data for the country's ELICOS sector (English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students). The findings rely on the most recent student visa data in combination with a survey of 115 member-schools of the association, and together they provide the most complete picture yet as to how COVID-19 impacted the sector in 2020.

A comparison of foreign student enrolments and commencements by sector through December 2020 extends the trend observed for Australia throughout the year with most sectors – vocational education and training being the exception – showing year-over-year declines.

The following chart is based on the latest student visa data from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment and it illustrates that ELICOS enrolments and commencements in particular were down -33% and -43% respectively in 2020 compared to the year before.

Foreign student enrolments and commencements in Australia by sector, 2019 and 2020. Source: Department of Education, Skills and Employment

That level of commencements, explains English Australia CEO Brett Blacker, means that the growth of the last 15 years has essentially been wound back. He notes as well that the month-by-month visa data reflects an especially sharp decline for the last quarter of 2020, with monthly commencements dropping by -58%, -63%, and -76% in October, November, and December respectively.

Member data more inclusive

The member survey data for Q4 2020 show that same sharp decline throughout the year. But, as Mr Blacker notes, "Traditionally around 30% of our ELICOS market is not in a student visa category." The significance of this is that the member survey data provides a more complete view of enrolment impact as it reflects trends both for those on student visas as well as those with visitor visas.

With that in mind, the following chart, which draws only on member survey data for Q4 2020, reports a decrease in ELICOS student numbers of -68% (compared to the same quarter in 2019) and a -72% drop in student weeks for the same period.

Reflecting on full-year data reported by members, English Australia notes that overall student numbers fell by -47% for the year.

Student numbers and student weeks reported by English Australia members for Q4 2020, compared to volumes for Q4 2019. Source: English Australia/Bonard

The member survey data shows as well that in that last quarter of 2020 just over half of all students (52%) were enrolled in online studies. Roughly four in ten (38%) were studying face-to-face, and the remaining 11% were studying in blended courses.

Member schools also report that half of all ELICOS students in Q4 were studying in Australia with the other 50% studying remotely from outside the country.

Looking ahead with visa grants

The English Australia summary also included a look at visa grants for 2020. This reflects the number of visas granted to students who have not yet begun their programmes of study. As such, it provides a window into future commencement trends, in this case the pool of incoming students that would have likely intended to begin their studies at some point in 2020 or 2021.

The data shows that there were 142,000 fewer visa grants in 2020 than in 2019. This represents a -39% decline, with the numbers of offshore grants (visas issued to students outside of Australia) showing the steepest decreases throughout the year.

"To put that into context, that decline is actually three times larger than the decline that was experienced back in 2020, which was the previous 'benchmark decline'," says Mr Blacker.

English Australia continues to advocate for government relief for the sector and was a signatory to a recent industry appeal to Prime Minister Scott Morrison for the announcement of "An indicative date sometime in the 2021 calendar year so that overseas students already enrolled (who are still located in their home country/another country) might be able to return here to complete their studies."

For additional background, please see:

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