Growth for South Africa’s ELT sector in 2021, further recovery expected

Growth for South Africa’s ELT sector in 2021, further recovery expected

Members of ELT association Education South Africa recorded a 70 per cent increase in 2021, and schools are experiencing further recovery in the current year with the return of short-term students and some key markets, despite some remaining challenges.

2021 data: In the 2021 annual member data for the association, seen by StudyTravel MagazineEducation South Africa (EduSA)  schools hosted 5,567 international students, an increase of 70.92 per cent with the pandemic-affected 2020 but still well below typical pre-Covid levels of more than 10,000 students.

A total of 31,444 student weeks were delivered in 2021, a 56.5 per cent increase compared with 20,081 weeks in the previous year. The return of shorter-term students during 2021 led to slightly shorter average stay of 5.64 weeks.

2021 markets: One of the key factors in the growth in 2021 was the return of the Saudi market, with 1,259 students, a 199 per cent increase compared with the previous year.

Ilse Liebenberg , Chair of EduSA, told StudyTravel Magazine, “Saudi Arabia has always been a good source market for South Africa. Just before the pandemic, Saudi Arabians were granted 90 days visa-free travel to South Africa, with the option of extending for a further 90 days from within the country. This definitely opened the market for us when the initial Covid restrictions started lifting, especially, considering that South Africa’s borders opened as early as October 2020 and we have always been a very affordable study travel destination.”

There was also growth in student numbers from several European countries in 2021, including France (596 students, +245 per cent); Italy (364, +574 per cent); and Switzerland (281, +46.3).

Africa also posted a 46.2 per cent increase in students last year, lead by Angola (252 students), Congo (244) and Gabon (175).

However, Latin America struggled in 2021 with Brazil – traditional one of the strongest source countries for South Africa – providing 509 students, a 45 per cent decrease compared with 2020. The next largest Latin America market was Colombia with only 18 students.

Ilse explained, “There were a lot of problems with flights from Brazil to South Africa in 2021. Not only did some airlines stop flying, but prices also soared. Students were deterred by the fact that they had to fly via places like Qatar, Ethiopia, Dubai etc.”

Agent recruitment: Overall agents accounted for 48.9 per cent of enrolments for EduSA schools (2,773 students) in 2021. However, the ratio was significantly higher in the Middle East (81) and Latin America (60.8 per cent).

2022 trends: South Africa’s ELT schools are expecting further recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic this year. “We have definitely seen a year of recovery, with some markets even exceeding their numbers from prior to the pandemic. We’ve seen the return of group bookings and young learners, as well as longer-term students,” Ilse said.

In June this year, the government of South Africa lifted all remaining Covid-19 restrictions, meaning that testing and vaccination certificates were no longer required, which provided a further boost to the sector.

“Schools have found that the Central and Western African markets have evolved. We’ve become more reliant on these long-term markets, and we’ve noticed their propensity to keep traveling during crisis.”

The Brazilian market has not fully recovered for EduSA.

There has been a slight recovery in the Brazilian students as some routes have recommenced, but Ilse said the market is likely to struggle until flight prices are more competitive. “We have noticed an increase in Brazilian students wanting to come and study in South Africa while working remotely, which has led to a slight increase in their length of stay. We foresee 2023 bouncing back even more so.”

She added, “Italy has certainly emerged as a good new market as well, bringing a lovely European flair to the industry here.”

Challenges: On challenges, Ilse added, “Unfortunately, EduSA is still in a precarious position with our government, as we battle to ensure ongoing support towards study visas. However, even this is starting to look slightly more hopeful.”

Association work: Commenting on the association’s work to promote ELT study in South Africa, Ilse said, “We are slowly but surely trying to boost the destination. Budget is always of a concern for us; however, we are managing various initiatives. We had a representative, Gavin Eyre, attend the Gaela [Global Alliance of Education and Language Associations] meeting at ST Alphe UK.

“I will be traveling to Berlin in November to represent members at the annual QALEN [Quality Assurance in Language Education Network] symposium and at ICEF Berlin. We are confident that 2023 we will a year of full recovery, in order for EduSA to continue to evolve as it had been doing prior 2020.”

Education South Africa represents full, associate and incubator member ELT providers in South Africa including: Avenue English Language SchoolCape Town School of EnglishEasy English CentreEC EnglishEF – Education FirstEnglish Access GuatengEnglish Plus AcademyGood Hope StudiesInternational House Cape TownInternational House JohannesburgLAL Language CentersLanguage Link College; and English Language Centre – University of Cape Town.

This blogpost originally appeared in St Magazine