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WSET candidate figures hit by Covid but buoyed by online

Published:  02 September, 2020

The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) has reported an 11% drop in candidates taking a qualification in the last academic year (2019/20).

This translates to a total of 96,845 candidates taking a qualification during the year versus the record-breaking 108,557 figure the previous year, with this decline “completely attributable” to the impact of Covid-19, said the WSET. 

Over the same period, however, WSET saw strong growth in online candidate registrations, with numbers almost trebling - 14,000 candidates registered for online courses compared to 5,000 the previous year. 

Candidate numbers fell for wine and sake qualifications at all levels, but numbers for WSET’s spirits courses bucked the trend with Levels 1 and 2 Awards in Spirits growing 17% and 19%.

Given the circumstances, WSET CEO Ian Harris said he was “very happy with our performance”.

“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.”

In January 2020, halfway through the academic year, WSET was recording 15% growth in candidate numbers compared to the previous year and was on track to deliver 125,000 candidates by the end of the year.  

However, in March 2020 candidate numbers came to a standstill as WSET course providers globally were unable to deliver classroom sessions and exams. In response, WSET fast-tracked its digital strategy, and by June 2020 was able to offer end-to-end online products in English in all subject streams at Levels 1 and 2 - including remotely invigilated online exams.   

Looking ahead to the new academic year, the priority was to “stabilise our business; supporting our course providers and students through the aftermath of the pandemic”, said Harris.

“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.”

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, with its  top three markets in 2019/20 by candidate numbers remaining the USA, UK and mainland China.

In June, the WSET revealed it is gearing up to launch a suite of beer qualifications.