Positive signs for Ireland's ELT sector

12 October, 2015

In a new report, language school association Marketing English in Ireland (MEI) claims that Ireland is a leader in terms of students per population and also highlights the success of a pilot student visa scheme in Turkey, amid anecdotal reports of a strong 2015 for the country’s industry.

The number of Turkish students at Marketing English in Ireland (MEI) member schools has grown since the introduction of the MEI pilot visa scheme

The report, presented at the MEI agent workshop in Dublin this week, shows that in 2014 Ireland was the fifth largest English language destination in terms of total number of students with 109,000 (at MEI member schools). 

But the study revealed that Ireland has 2,260 language students per 10 million population, a significantly higher ratio than any of its competitor ELT destinations in the top five. The UK has a ratio of 1,224 incoming language students per 10 million population, followed by Australia (660), Canada (440) and the USA (76).

Commenting on the significance of the findings, David O’Grady, CEO of MEI, told StudyTravel Magazine, “It shows Ireland’s capacity to compete consistently in terms of quality product and in terms of promotional skills.”

O’Grady highlighted the collaborative efforts that have contributed to Ireland’s success. “Because we are smaller, we need to be more nimble and quick-footed and, of course, to run faster. We are good at learning: learning from our own mistakes and learning from the success of others. We work closely with government and government agencies and we appreciate how central they are in the collaborative approach in strategy for international education. We are always aware that international students have choice and we do not have any entitlement to their trust unless we earn it.”

He said that the innate openness of the Irish people was a key factor in allowing the country to easily absorb such a relatively high proportion of language students. “We have a sense that learning makes us all better and an appreciation of those who go to the trouble and expense to learn. Learning is never foreign,” he said.

The report also revealed that a special MEI visa pilot scheme with Turkey has led to substantial growth. In 2011, the year the scheme commenced, there were 49 Turkish students at MEI member schools. Last year, MEI schools had 377 Turkish students and up to the third quarter of the current year had welcomed 702 students.

“The growth in the Turkish market to Ireland is totally due to the MEI pilot scheme,” said O’Grady. “We identified that market and went to the Department of Justice with a plan. The Department was receptive and ran with it. We promoted it, and it has been a great success.”

He said there was still work to be done with the Turkish junior market, but praised the role of Turkish agents in promoting Ireland. “In all aspects of the Turkey growth story, agents have been central.”

O’Grady conceded that a similar pilot for China had yet to achieve a similar success. “Our new marketing strategy for China is to focus on the second-tier cities and build from there.” He added that Colombia and Kazakhstan have been earmarked by MEI as potential markets for future pilot schemes.

Ireland’s ELT sector appears to be having a strong 2015, partly bolstered by the strength of the pound in the UK, its nearest competitor country.

Although comprehensive data for the year has not yet been gathered, O’Grady said the MEI schools exhibiting at the workshop reported “a very good summer season”. He also said that members with dual operations in the UK and Ireland have reported declines in the former and increase in the latter in almost equal measure.

StudyTravel Magazine’s most recent market analysis feature on Ireland’s language school sector was published earlier this year.

Matthew Knott
News Editor


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