Universities are beginning to feel the pain that English language colleges have endured for nearly three years, according to peak colleges body English Australia.
“The higher education sector is finally seeing the impact of the declining ELICOS (English language) numbers in previous years,” said Sue Blundell, executive director of English Australia. ELICOS courses are a key source of overseas students for universities. In the year to March, commencements in the higher education sector fell 6 per cent to 52,101, according to Australian Education International.
Higher education starts across all markets fell only 2 per cent in the 12 months to March last year, and the decline last calendar year was 4.9 per cent. Across all education export sectors, commencements were down 7.2 per cent in the year to March this year. Since 2008, the average growth in commencements for the year-to-March period was 4.8 per cent per year, AEI said.
“The higher education student pipeline is longer than the ELICOS sector’s, which means that they are usually the last to see declines,” Ms Blundell said. “ELICOS sees declines first but also sees the return to growth first as well.”
In the year to March, ELICOS commencements were down 5.6 per cent compared with a 22 per cent decline in the previous year. But Ms Blundell said it was important to remember that each new decline came on top of previous ones. She said the total decline, compared with the peak year of 2009, was 32 per cent, and the important China market alone had fallen 41 per cent in two years.
However, Ms Blundell said that last year would have been worse for English language colleges were it not for students on working holiday and tourist visas. Stable numbers on tourist visas and more students in class with working holiday visas helped limit the total decline in new starts last year to 4 per cent, she said.
Student visa numbers for ELICOS were down last year, but they were also down in 2010, when the total decrease in commencements across all visa categories was 10 per cent.
Arriving on a tourist visa was an especially popular choice for the big Japanese market, Ms Blundell said.