WSET's global student number took a hit because of Covid-19, and China is no longer its biggest market.

The number of students enrolled in Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) in the academic year of 2019-2020 has taken a hit by the coronavirus pandemic, as the education provider reports a 11% decrease compared with previous year’s record-breaking number.

Meanwhile, for the first time, the US has surpassed China to become the biggest market for the world’s largest wine, spirits and sake education provider, according to the organization.

China including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan has for years been the No.1 market for WSET, and before Covid-19 the market accounted for roughly 23% of its total candidates worldwide. This year, however, it slid to third place after the US and the UK.

The total student number in the 2019-2020 academic year for WSET was 96,845, compared with 108,557 candidates who enrolled in the previous academic year, “with this decline completely attributable to the impact of Covid-19,” says the education provider.

China and WSET
The US has surpassed China to become the biggest market for WSET for the first time

Over the same period, WSET saw strong growth in online candidate registrations, with numbers almost trebling compared to the previous year. WSET registered 14,000 candidates for online courses in 2019/20, representing 15% of annual candidate numbers, compared to 5,000 candidates (5% of annual candidate numbers) in the previous year.

The digital growth reflects the increased global demand for online learning amongst trade and consumer audiences stimulated by global lockdown and working from home, it explains.

Although candidate numbers fell for wine and sake qualifications at all levels, candidate numbers for WSET’s spirits courses bucked the trend with Levels 1 and 2 Award in Spirits growing +17% and +19% respectively versus the previous year.

WSET course availability continued to grow in 2019/20 with 106 new Approved Programme Providers (APPs) offering WSET courses for the first time, including two new markets – Guyana and Myanmar.

WSET now has over 900 APPs offering WSET qualifications in more than 70 countries. Several countries in the Asia Pacific and EMEA regions saw encouraging growth despite the pandemic, in particular South Korea (+28%), Japan (+18%), and France (+15%).

Ian Harris, WSET Chief Executive

WSET Chief Executive Ian Harris says, “I am very happy with our performance given the circumstances, and I am incredibly proud of the WSET team who have gone the extra mile to see us through the serious challenges thrown at us by Covid-19. Our ability to roll out end-to-end digital products has not only been our saviour in the short-term, but also opens up new opportunities for us in the long-term. We now have the flexibility to offer a blended package of classroom and online courses to meet the varying needs of our course providers and students around the world.”

Harris adds, “Looking forward to the new academic year, our priority is to stabilise our business; supporting our course providers and students through the aftermath of the pandemic. We have learnt many lessons from the last five months and will be using these to continue to make our business more agile and efficient. Additionally, we will be refining our digital products and services and gradually developing our remotely invigilated exams and eBooks in other key languages. We will also continue preparations for the launch of our first beer qualifications.”

Set up in 1969, WSET is the largest global provider of qualifications wines, spirits and sake. The top 10 WSET markets for the academic year 2019/20 are:

  1. USA
  2. UK
  3. Mainland China
  4. Canada
  5. France
  6. Hong Kong, SAR
  7. Australia
  8. Taiwan, China
  9. Japan
  10. South Korea

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