WSET Candidate Figures Hit By Covid, Buoyed By Online Classes

The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) has reported that in the last academic year, a total of 96,845 candidates took a WSET qualification. This represents an 11% decrease versus last year’s record-breaking figure of 108,557 candidates reported in the organization’s 50th year.

WSET attributes this decline to the effects of Covid-19.

Over the same period, however, WSET saw growth in online candidate registrations, the organization says, with numbers almost tripling compared to the previous year. And while 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. 

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, the organization reports. However, in March 2020, candidate numbers came to a standstill as WSET course-providers globally were unable to deliver classroom sessions and exams.

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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 (wine, spirits and sake) at Levels 1 and 2 — including remotely invigilated online exams.   

“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,” says WSET Chief Executive Ian Harris. “Our ability to roll out end-to-end digital products has not only been our savior 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.”

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. WSET’s digital growth reflects the increased global demand for online learning amongst trade and consumer audiences stimulated by global lockdown and working from home, the organization believes.

“Looking forward to the new academic year, our priority is to stabilizr our business; supporting our course providers and students through the aftermath of the pandemic,” Harris adds. “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.”

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