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HomeApril 2023Issue 484The world’s smallest major ELT destination is full

The world’s smallest major ELT destination is full

Melanie Butler investigates the smallest and largest ELT destinations

This time last year when I called MEI, the Irish association of regulated language schools, to ask how the summer season was going I was told the country was full. At the end of March this year MEI General Manager, Lorcan O’Connor Lloyd, gave me the same answer. “Some schools may have a little availability at some points in the season,” he said doubtfully.

Unlike last year staff shortages are not the problem: “in 2022 we struggled for teachers,” says Lorcan, “and the numbers on teacher training courses were down too.”

Now, wages have ticked up, the number of trainees has increased, and the schoolteachers are back. Unlike the UK, Ireland has rarely had to import EFL teachers for the summer, relying instead on schoolteachers who take a special two-week TEFL course.

Accommodation remains a problem. Host families are trickling back, though the rates they are asking have gone up. In the middle of a cost of living crisis, who can blame them?

With accommodation in short supply in the major EFL cities of Dublin, Galway and Cork, the summer schools have expanded down the Eastern coast into towns like Waterford and Wexford or into the picturesque small towns in the heart of the country. Most of the growth has come from long-established providers seeking out new locations and new host families.

Residential summer centres have also sprung up – but in a country with seven universities, 14 Institutes of Technology and less than 20 boarding schools – the supply is not inexhaustible.

Outside the summer there is room for growth in the year-round young leaners market which has boomed since Brexit. After all the EU is the biggest player in the under-16s market and Ireland boasts it is now the only native English speaking EU country (though I doubt the Maltese, see above, would agree.) The high school year abroad market is growing fast too, with numbers from some markets increasing, according to Lorcan, even during the pandemic.

The limit to growth remains accommodation. And the boom in adult year-round EFL students isn’t helping. Ireland is a country of 5 million people with 100,000 over-18s, mostly from Latin America, all on a study work visa, all seeking somewhere to stay. On a per capita basis Ireland is now, year-round, the largest ELT destination in the world – and probably the fullest.

Image courtesy of COPYRIGHT PEXELS.COM
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