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October 2005 issue

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The global market

2004 was a difficult year for some English language teaching destinations, as our annual analysis of the global English language teaching market reveals. The UK, USA and Canada all saw overall declines in student weeks taught while Australia and Malta turned in a more positive performance. Amy Baker reports.


The landscape of the English language teaching (ELT) industry is changing. In 2004, the big hitters of the UK, USA and Canada all saw their volume of English language students decline. Our figures, gathered using the same sources as in our previous global market analysis (see Language Travel Magazine, October 2004, pages 22-26), indicate that the best performing markets in 2004 were Malta and Australia.

Overall, 2004 was a tough year all round, with issues relating to visa acquisition often mentioned as hampering growth in all study abroad markets, as immigration policy came under the spotlight. Even in Australia, which experienced a five per cent growth in student weeks last year – after two years of "flat growth" – Seamus Fagan at English Australia points out that the increase was limited to the short-term market. "It has been another flat year for student visa holders," he states.

Ease of visa issuance may be one factor that has won Malta greater market share. The country experienced a growth of 11.6 per cent in student weeks in 2004 compared with 2003. The National Statistics Office in Malta produces detailed data in relation to its ELT sector, which accounts for five per cent of the total tourism market. It reports that more students from China, Turkey, Libya and Hungary were recorded in the 2004 year, although the market is still dominated by Western Europeans.

Next best choice
Agents in China – a country which has considerable potential as an ELT student source country and where nationals notoriously experience problems in gaining a study visa almost everywhere – testify that the likelihood of visa issuance is an integral factor in a student';s decision-making process. Zhang Wang, Director of Beijing Wan-ji Education Consulting Co., relates that, in theory, the UK and the USA remain the most popular study destinations. In practice, however, "as students cannot get the visa from these countries, they change the destination to New Zealand or Australia or Canada."

Michael Wang of HWT Centre in China agrees with this experience, although Malta is lacking from his list of most likely study destinations – possibly because of problems, now resolved, that the Maltese experienced with Chinese arrivals this year (see page 7). He says, "The possibility of getting a visa plays a big role in the decision-making process. It is extremely difficult to get a visa for the USA, so not many people plan to go there." He lists Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Ireland, Cyprus and South Africa as likely options.

"Australia and New Zealand have been very popular as the costs are reasonable and the chance to get the visa there is good," Wang continues, underlining that price is another important factor considered by students.

While New Zealand';s total student weeks figure declined only marginally in 2004 on 2003, its total in 2004 is still way below the 815,728 it recorded in 2002, and one reason for this is price. The value of the New Zealand currency has risen, while Australia';s dollar has remained steady – making the two southern hemisphere countries far more comparable in value.

This is evidenced by the comparable spend per week recorded in our analysis this year. In 2003, there was a difference of almost US$50 per week in the average spend recorded between Australia and New Zealand. In 2004, this had dropped to just US$10 per week as the spend in New Zealand increased. The UK and Canada became comparatively cheaper in 2004, but most other destinations became slightly more expensive (see fig. 6).

Revenue generated across the global ELT market was US$8.3 billion in 2004, lower than the US$9.6 billion recorded in 2003. The countries that actually earned more revenue in 2004 than in 2003, according to our analysis, were the Australasians – Australia and New Zealand – and South Africa.

Shorter stays and high competition
In terms of the total number of student weeks recorded across ELT destinations, overall figures have declined year on year. Indeed, the entire ELT market in native English teaching countries has seen a gradual decline in total volume since 2002, according to our data.

And actual student numbers, as well as the more accurate measurement of student weeks (total volume), dropped from 2003 to 2004. Perhaps visa issuance problems and cost have simply put language travel and international education out of reach of some potential students in the last year, or forced them to take shorter stays. This latter point is a market trend noted by Robert Stevens, Chief Executive at Education New Zealand.

"The overall rise in the number of students [in New Zealand] is interesting, and proves that New Zealand continues to be an excellent choice for students," he says of the 1.6 per cent rise in actual numbers recorded in 2004. "The lower value for tuition [in a separate survey] reflects in part a change towards shorter courses, which is a global trend," he underlines. New Zealand';s average length of stay (see fig. 5) dropped from 12 weeks to 11.7 weeks in 2004. Indeed, just two of the eight countries in our survey recorded a higher average length of stay in 2004 compared with 2003; the USA and Malta.

At English UK, which represents 340 English language providers in the biggest and most expensive ELT market, Chief Executive, Tony Millns mentions other factors that might also explain a lower student turnout last year. "Competition is not just from new ELT country destinations, such as South Africa, but also from in-country low-cost language provision, especially in China; regional hub campuses of UK and other institutions, for example in Malaysia and Singapore; and e-learning and other web-based delivery systems," he says.

Despite these factors and the relative expense of studying there (see fig. 6), the UK experienced only a relative decline year on year in terms of student weeks in 2004, while its student numbers actually increased – indicating that the average length of stay dropped – and its market share by student weeks rose when compared with other markets, to 43.6 per cent. Millns observes, "Some of the increase in market share derives from the displacement of students from, in particular, the US."

The USA has certainly seen the greatest drop in numbers since we began our global market analysis for the 2002 calendar year. The reasons for this have been well documented and include tighter visa regulations and additional costs, such as the Sevis fee paid by students to fund a student tracking system. Our figures indicate a decline of 36 per cent in total student weeks in two years. Yet, even in the USA, there is hope of improvement.

The US Action Act, aimed at improving the fortunes of the international education industry, is under consideration (see Language Travel Magazine, June 2005, page 6) and one agent in Venezuela reports that visa issuance is becoming less complicated now for the USA. "The student visas are easier to obtain than before," notes Brenda Crivosei at Club del Trotamundo Travel Agency in Venezuela.

Ann Frentzen, President of the American Association of Intensive English Programs (AAIEP) in the USA, which has close to 300 members, asserts that this is the case. She relates that the process of getting student visas "does seem to be going much more smoothly" and says of the future, "I';m hopeful that the US ELT market may be ready to turn the corner in terms of its enrolments". However, Frentzen acknowledges that changing perceptions of potential students may be a slower process.

Position by volume and market share
Following on from the UK with 43.6 per cent market share by student weeks, the US has 18.8 per cent of market share, down from 19.2 per cent in 2003 (see fig. 4). Canada has also seen its market share slip slightly from 16.2 to 15.3 per cent. Australia saw a five per cent growth in weeks to give it 10.4 per cent market share and New Zealand posted a negligible decline in actual weeks of 0.8 per cent, giving it 6.3 per cent market share.

Ireland';s market share has dropped the most noticeably, but this is because the only official source of data – from tourism body, Failte Ireland – indicates a decline in numbers that it says is misleading because of a change in the way data was collected and recorded. School association, MEI~Relsa, however, has plans to produce its own statistics next year. Meanwhile, after Malta';s increase of 11.6 per cent in weeks with 1.7 per cent share, South Africa';s total weeks declined by three per cent but its market share was consistent, up from just 0.8 per cent to 0.9 per cent.

In terms of growth in market share, South Africa, Malta, New Zealand, Australia and the UK all posted an increase. As a result, New Zealand now accounts for more student weeks than Ireland but other than that, there is no change in the order of most sizable markets. However, Australia, in number-four position, has won market share, most likely at the expense of the USA and Canada.

Sue Blundell at industry body, English Australia, is confident about Australia';s performance last year and future prospects. "Overall," she says, "I think that Australia is getting it right in terms of ensuring there is a clear vision of where we want international education to go."

Efforts that Australia has made to improve its industry infrastructure include introducing clear visa pathways, allowing online visa applications in some countries as well as trialling an e-visa system for agents (see Language Travel Magazine, February 2005, page 10) and linking the visa system to educational registration needs via a database system that providers and government can access.

Quality and transparency required
The integrity of quality assurance has also been a factor that Australia has looked to improve this year, through the review of its overseas student legislation (see Language Travel Magazine, September 2005, page 6). Other countries have been working on the very same motivation – to boost numbers through quality assurance linked to visa issuance – in the UK and Malta for example.

In Malta, school association Feltom is calling on the government to introduce a specific student visa system so that it can gain a better foothold in non-European markets. As far as quality standards are concerned, Feltom is setting the pace and expecting the government to catch up. It has revised standards for its own accreditation scheme that will "set Malta apart from the competition", says President, John Dimech.

"Feltom has always considered its mission to be raising standards, and it is for this reason that it has taken the accreditation scheme upon itself, rather than expecting the education authorities to do so," he states. Dimech hopes legislation will be enacted to reflect Feltom principles, as has happened in the past.

The imperative here, as in other countries, is to get the government to back the industry on a legislative level. Millns in the UK stresses English UK';s commitment to maintaining market share by working with the government. "English UK maintains a strong voice where government policy is concerned, through, for example, representation on the Joint Education Taskforce and good links with UKVisas policy section," he says.

In Canada, Robyn Inman of the Canada Language Council (CLC) notes that government interest in the ELT sector is stirring after years of lobbying for recognition. "I believe there is a more welcoming climate generally in Ottawa and at the border," she says, citing recent initiatives such as the right to work while at university (see Language Travel Magazine, July 2005, page 6) as indicative of the new approach in government to this "emerging" industry.

Valerie Richmond at fellow association, the Canadian Association of Private Language Schools (Capls), notes that a joined-up governmental approach is imperative in Canada, which has to contend with a federal education system. "Canada needs to build and promote an Education Canada brand," she emphasises.

Blundell in Australia sums up, "The clear goal is sustainable growth for all education sectors, including ELT – and sustainable growth is built on solid foundations."

To find out how the results were calculated for each country, please visit the online version of this article at www.hothousemedia.com.

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