19/08/2010 - 00:00

English language courses first to feel brunt of market woes

19/08/2010 - 00:00

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VETERANS of the Western Australian international student market know from experience that, when the English language students desert the sector, it has a ripple effect through the industry.

English language courses first to feel brunt of market woes

VETERANS of the Western Australian international student market know from experience that, when the English language students desert the sector, it has a ripple effect through the industry.

Today’s English language student is tomorrow’s university undergraduate.

“English language, that is the canary in the coalmine,” Navitas CEO Rod Jones said.

“Many of the kids thinking of coming here need front-end English. The universities are hit a bit later because they get the kids later in the pipeline.”

The canary in the coalmine line is not exclusive to Mr Jones; other long-term players in the business have used the very same terminology to explain their concerns.

But as a global player across the full spectrum of international education, Mr Jones is in a unique position with regard to the impact of a host of economic and political issues that have converged to make trouble for international education providers in WA.

From this position, Mr Jones can see problems that will ripple through the industry in Australia, costing as much as $3 billion by his reckoning.

Perth International College of English director John Paxton is also worried, especially as his business is focused on the language field.

“Agents overseas, these are well established, well-known agents sending students here for years, they have indicated they are concerned about perceptions from students in the market that Australia doesn’t want them, if you put it harshly,” Mr Paxton said.

“At the very least they are saying that Australia is making it very difficult for them.”

Australian Education International statistics appear to back this up.

In WA, the ELICOS sector (English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students) is the most affected, with new commencements for the year to June down more than 25 per cent compared to the previous corresponding period.

They have dropped to 3,484 to June 2010, compared to 4,690 at the same time last year, a fall of more than 1,200.

Total commencements are down to 14,377 from 15,866 across the whole WA international student market in the same period, which means that English language losses represent about three quarters of the fall across the whole sector.

Digging in more deeply is even more concerning.

Commencements for students from India, WA’s second largest international education market and a growth region, are down in that period from 518 in the year to June 2009, to just 64 in the corresponding period this year.

India has been one of the state’s growth markets. It is not just a vast opportunity for education as the sub-continent enters the global big league, there is also a host of good reasons for WA wanting to engage with the next generation of the Indian Ocean’s most populous nation.

But if the ELICOS students are a portent of things to come, the efforts of education marketers over the past few years to build this segment may be in jeopardy.

Overall, Indian student commencements are down to 1,423 for the year to June, compared to 2,412 the previous corresponding period.

Indian enrolments have grown for the same period but they have slowed compared to the previous period.

In 2009, year-to-date enrolments from India more doubled to 4,895 from 2,252. This year, by June, they had slowed to 5,403. Enrolments are a lagging indicator because they are often the result of two years or more of decision making by a student or their family.

Looking across the enrolments and commencements data for WA’s top 10 markets for the year to June, China appears to be the only market not affected by the external and internal issues troubling this sector. Its growth rates have been spectacularly and consistently strong over 2008, 2009 and 2010.

 

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