What We Know and What’s Next: Candlefox Marketplace Trends 2020 Wrap Up

Claudia Reiners
July 22, 2020

What We Know and What’s Next: Candlefox Marketplace Trends 2020 Wrap Up

4bf428ed6af9ff680b7ac8b24b046f3d?s=50&d=mm&r=g Claudia Reiners
Head of Strategy

It’s always good to reflect, and as we tick over into the new financial year here in Australia, there’s no better time than now.

In true Candlefox fashion, here is our round-up of the key Marketplace trends and insights we’ve seen over the past 12 months.

With VET Reforms looming, and the most recent announcement of the JobTrainer package, it’s a vastly different training sector to this time last year.

COVID-19 has accelerated the transition to and the transformation of online learning, and has reset all our predictions and expectations of the VET and Higher Education industry.

While the long term ramifications of COVID-19 are yet to be seen, we’re witnessing drastic changes to the sector, in what is otherwise a slow moving beast.

The drop in international student enrolments will hugely impact the Higher Education sector, micro-credentials are finally trending (at a much faster pace than we could have ever expected), and unemployment has hit a 22 year high.

While overall study trends are fairly consistent with last year’s numbers, it’s still useful to reflect on the year that was.

As the largest Education Marketplace in the country, our own data and insights reflect the sentiments and numbers that we’re also seeing across the country.

Read on for a detailed overview of the past 12 months of Candlefox Marketplace insights.

January 2019 to Now

18 months ago, we took a look at the overarching themes across our Marketplace, which continued as trends right through to June 2019.

These high level insights reflected the general trends that we were seeing across Australia, and we have seen a similar follow-through on these:

  • Short courses were growing from strength to strength on our Marketplace
  • Community Services, Accounting, Child Care, Business Administration and Health were our most popular subject areas in the accredited space during the first quarter of the year
  • Business and Finance courses had shown the highest growth across both the unaccredited and accredited space compared to 2018

Student Sentiment and Attitudes in the Education Sector

When it comes to student sentiment, prospective students are demonstrating a higher intent to study than this time last year and the previous financial year combined.

While we wait for NCVER’s latest enrolment figures for the VET sector, we can still use some other leading indicators to show that Australians are demonstrating a strong intent to study, and positive attitudes towards the education sector.

Our Student Sentiment Index (SSI), an independent, leading indicator of Australian student sentiment towards the education sector, has been tracking the aspirations and motivations of prospective students for over 3 ½ years.

The SSI was designed to measure prospective student optimism or positivity towards the education sector, and how it reflects their likelihood to commence study. Since inception, we have seen a general upwards trend in the overall sentiment of student prospects towards furthering their education in the tertiary sector. On average, our index has shown an average 20% uptick in sentiment.

Although this number doesn’t reflect overall student enrolment numbers, the SSI is based on four separate sub-indices, reflecting student sentiment towards ‘Motivation to study’, ‘Urgency to study’, ‘Funding sensitivity’ and ‘Confidence in commencing study’.

While there are a lot of external factors at play here, such as FreeTAFE in Victoria, and slow wage growth across Australia as a whole, if we break this down and focus solely on the past 10-12 months, there has still been a consistent growth in attitudes towards the education sector.

With the headache of VET FEE HELP a distant memory for many, and the economic outlook post-COVID-19 at the forefront of student minds, it’s no surprise that there is a general positivism towards education and skills development and training.

If we focus solely on the ‘Urgency’ sub-index of our SSI, which looks at the urgency with which prospective students want to commence studying, student urgency has increased this year. On average, compared to the first four months of last year, we saw an 10% increase in urgency to study.

The Candlefox Enrolment Services Team and Student Intent

Anecdotally, our Enrolment Services Team – who actively helps to enrol students in their course of choice – has also seen students exhibiting a higher than average intent to study over the past few months, when compared with this time last year.

This comes as no surprise, given the circumstances we find ourselves in and the economic malaise that is predicted to follow us over the coming months.

The 1990s recession saw a huge spike in university enrolment numbers, and there are also other studies that suggest that economic hardship pushes people to seek out further education.

The education landscape has somewhat diversified since then, with the proliferation of MOOCs, and a myriad of alternative avenues for upskilling and training outside the accredited training space. We are already seeing the fast forwarding of micro-credentials and shorter qualifications due to the pandemic, with short higher education courses announced in the Higher Education Relief package and the 34 free online courses offered by TAFENSW.

People seem to be turning to training and upskilling more and more, especially now that the current environment has left hundreds of thousands of Australians without work.

Online learning is definitely the way forward, and many education providers are pivoting to online learning if they hadn’t already done so. Our Enrolment Services Team also has seen an increasing acceptance in students that online learning is the ‘way to go’.

In summary, one could say that sentiment towards learning, and in particular, online learning, has been higher over the past 12 months. While the VET sector continues to be undervalued and perceived as inferior next to Higher Ed (something that will still need to be addressed in the future), Australians are hungry to learn.

What’s Trending Across Our Marketplace

Demand for courses across our network, particularly in the VET sector, largely reflects student enrolment numbers that are released by the NCVER (National Centre for Vocational Education Research) on a yearly basis.

These enrolment figures are released for the previous year around July to August, so it’s a little too early to draw parallels to our Marketplace data just yet. What can be said though, is that our Marketplace course enquiry numbers historically match course enrolment numbers in terms of demand and popularity.

Similarly, enrolment numbers over the past 3 to 4 years largely match the highest growth and highest demand skills sectors, such as aged care, health and childcare.

In FY 19, these were the top five subject areas across the Candlefox Marketplace in Australia:

  • Accounting
  • Community Services
  • Business Administration
  • Child Care
  • Aged Care

In FY 20, these were the top five subject areas across the Candlefox Marketplace in Australia:

  • Accounting
  • Community Services
  • Health
  • Beauty and Hairdressing
  • Business Administration

While Child Care and Aged Care didn’t make the Top five subject areas this time around, they were still in the Top 10, and didn’t actually see a drop in course enquiries.

In fact, of all the Top 10 subject areas across our network, they all saw an increase in course enquiries in FY20.

Business (BSB) and Community Services (CHC) were by far the most popular training packages again in the VET space over the past 12 months across our network. This is very much aligned with the 2018 enrolment data from NCVER.

This is not surprising, given that these training packages cover a broad range of qualifications, many of which are in high growth areas, such as Health and Social Assistance.

Employment in the Health Care and Social Assistance industry (a major employer of health professionals) is projected to expand at double the pace of all industries over the five years to May 2023.

Strong Course Performers: A Snapshot

While we’ve seen significant growth across our own marketplace, we’ve also seen significant growth in popularity across many subject areas:

  • Accounting – 33% increase in student enquiries
  • Community Services – 22% increase in student enquiries
  • Healthcare – 88% increase in student enquiries
  • IT – 50% increase in student enquiries
  • Beauty and Hairdressing – 69% increase in student enquiries

There are also a handful of courses that are strong performers nationally in terms of enrolments, that continue to be in high demand across our Marketplace after several years.

A selection of these courses are:

  • Certificate IV in Accounting and Bookkeeping
  • Certificate III in Individual Support
  • Certificate III in Business Administration
  • Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care
  • Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care

And last but not least, of the Top 50 qualifications on our Marketplace last year, 40% of these were Diploma level.

An Surge in Online and Short Courses

As we see a diversification in short course offerings, and an even stronger push into online learning, the demand for shorter courses across our network continues to grow significantly.

We’ve seen a 40% growth in enquiries for short courses over the past 12 months, and this doesn’t account for the massive pivot to online course delivery that has occurred since the onset of coronavirus lockdowns.

These short courses can range from unaccredited, pure online courses, to single unit University subjects. The short course space, with mostly online delivery, is incredibly diverse.

The range of short courses on our network continues to grow in scope, from hobby style, recreational courses, to professional, skills based courses, tailored specifically to the workplace.

We’re also witnessing a reframing of learning and education as a whole at the moment, which is referred to as ‘lifelong learning’. Lifelong learning is the “ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated”[1] pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lifelong_learning. In the context of short courses, with the increasing availability of both formal and informal learning online, it is no surprise that the demand for short courses is on the rise.

‘Lifelong learning’ and development is happening in tandem with the changing nature of work, driven by technological advancements. Employers should still continue to upskill their workforces in these changing times, and employees should ensure that they are keeping career enhancement and learning opportunities at the front of mind.

We have also seen the continued growth of universities offering micro-courses, micro-credential and single unit style modules, such as RMIT Future Learn and Monash Online. It is predicted that this space will continue to evolve significantly over the next 12 to 18 months.

The government has already backed the creation of accredited short courses under its Higher Ed relief package, and has heavily publicised its $4 million investment into a micro-credentials platform to ‘help students identify educational opportunities’.

The latest AQF Review gave strong recommendations around the expansion of our qualifications framework into the micro-credentials space, and COVID-19 has definitely given the government an opportunity to pursue this much quicker than expected.

With the trend towards flexible learning and shorter study time, and often, more practical, skills-based application, it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the landscape. Both the Joyce Review and the AQF Review have given recommendations that point to a more flexible system that would support an expansion into this type of learning, as well as more fluidity between VET and Higher Ed.

Some of our most popular subjects in the short course space over the past 12 months were:

  • Accounting and Finance
  • Counselling
  • Animal Care
  • Photography and Design
  • Hair and Beauty

We also saw a x 2.5 increase in Makeup and Beauty-related courses compared to last year, with courses in subcategories such as ‘Eyelash Extension’ courses proving very popular.

Skills based, professional courses such as MYOB also maintained their popularity.

Final Thoughts

With the advent of COVID-19, it’s a strange concept to reflect on the previous 12 months, given that the education market, job market and economic outlook have all changed so drastically.

When we surveyed our database for feedback towards the beginning of the pandemic, it was already evident that times were changing.

Q. Before the crisis, which study method was most desirable for you?

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Q. Given the situation, is online learning now a more desirable method of study compared to last year?

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Unsurprisingly, people are moving towards, and are more comfortable with, studying online.

Yet, when we asked what areas of study people were interested in studying during the pandemic, there were no real surprises.

Some of the more popular responses were:

  • Accounting and Finance
  • Community Services
  • Business
  • Education
  • Aged Care
  • Child Care
  • IT

Skills shortages and industry growth continue to drive demand in similar areas of study, year after year.

It will be interesting to see how these trends play out over the next 12-18 months in a post-pandemic era, following significant Higher Ed funding & VET Reform.

Want to find out more?

As our Marketplace continues to grow from strength to strength, so does our data capture, and our ability to keep our finger on the pulse!

If you would like to see some more granular course trends, forecasting, and predictions from our team, get in touch with us today.

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Claudia Reiners
Head of Strategy
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