UK ELT sector shows promising recovery

The UK’s English Language Teaching (ELT) sector experienced significant growth in 2023, reaching 75% of its pre-pandemic levels. The sector saw increases in student enrolments and the number of student weeks delivered, depicting a steady recovery. This progress comes amid a varied global landscape where some countries, like Ireland and Australia, have fully bounced back, while others, including the UK, US, and Canada, are on the path to recovery.

Promising growth in the UK ELT sector

English UK, a prominent national membership association representing accredited English-language teaching centres, recently published an annual report, compiled in collaboration with its research partner BONARD, on 2023 student statistics.


The report showed that the UK ELT sector showed progress, with student numbers reaching 76% of 2019 levels and student weeks increasing by 71%. This improvement was illustrated by a notable 52% surge in full-time face-to-face students. Furthermore, the sector witnessed a 19% growth in the number of student weeks delivered, surpassing the one-million mark for the first time since 2019, totaling 1,153,870 weeks.The proportion of junior students hit an all-time high of 60%, up from 54% in 2019.


Jodie Gray, chief executive of English UK, emphasised the importance of government policies in supporting this recovery. She noted that the UK’s welcoming approach, contrasted with challenges in Canada and Australia, has played a crucial role in attracting international students.

Recovery between private and state sectors

ELT recovery varied significantly between private and state sectors. Private providers, which represent about 90% of English UK’s membership, taught 55% more students and delivered 24% more student weeks compared to 2022. In contrast, state sector institutions faced declines, with 20% fewer students and a 28% reduction in student weeks, achieving only 27% of pre-pandemic levels. English UK is working with state sectors to address structural challenges and maximise potential for growth.

Conference insights and global trends

Stakeholders at the International House Directors Conference in Split in Croatia discussed diverse recovery patterns in the global ELT sector. BONARD’s analysis forecasted that Ireland and Australia would fully recover by the end of 2023, with student volumes at 117% and 106% of 2019 levels, respectively. Meanwhile, the UK is at 76%, the US at 70% and South Africa at 92% of their pre-pandemic volumes.


Moreover, discussions also covered the rise of intra-regional mobility and the creation of new educational hubs, such as Dubai. The conference featured various sessions on topics ranging from Erasmus+ funding to innovative projects like IH Mexico’s ThinkLab. In addition, Ivana Bartosik, BONARD’s international education director, pointed out that South Africa’s recovery is notable given the severe impact of COVID-19 on its ELT sector. She also highlighted the potential impact of international higher education student caps in Canada and possibly Australia on their ELT sectors.

Emerging markets

The UK ELT sector benefited from growth in several emerging markets. Peru, Taiwan and Colombia saw student volumes increase by 188%, 124%, and 108%, respectively. Italy’s student numbers rose by 57%, aided by the Estate INPSieme Estero scholarship scheme. 

Policy recommendations for enhanced growth

Ahead of the UK’s upcoming general election, English UK issued a manifesto with six recommendations aimed at boosting the ELT sector. These include: 

  1. expanding career-enhancing travel opportunities for young people by expanding the Youth Mobility Scheme
  2. legalising short work placements on all ELT courses
  3. extending ID card travel for groups of under-18s from the EU.
  4. recognising UK ELT’s accreditation scheme for immigration purposes
  5. increasing government marketing support for UK ELT
  6. increasing rent-a-room relief to help address our capacity challenge


Gray asserted that these policy changes could significantly enhance the sector’s contributions to the UK’s economy, healthcare system and international relations, and could be implemented without major cost or compromise.


Overall, the UK’s ELT sector is on a path of steady recovery, driven by strategic efforts and emerging market dynamics, amidst competitive pressures and varying recovery rates globally.


To learn more news, updates and exciting study opportunities available for international students in the UK, please visit our blog or contact our Business Development Managers for more information. 

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