Covid hits WSET figures but spirits rise

The Wine & Spirit Education Trust has reported an 11% decrease in candidates taking a qualification in the 2019/20 academic year, a fall that it said was “completely attributable” to the impact of Covid-19.

But online candidate registrations almost trebled over the previous year.

Wine and sake candidate numbers fell at all levels but the number of candidates for spirits courses bucked the trend, increasing by 17% for Level 1 and 19 % for Level 2.

The total number of people taking a qualification fell from a record high of 108,557 in 2018/19 to 96,845 in 2019/20.

The WSET said that in January, halfway through the academic year, it had been on track to deliver 125,000 candidates, with growth running at 15% versus the previous year.

But from March onwards, things came to a standstill as course providers around the world were unable to deliver classroom sessions and exams.

The organisation said it fast-tracked its digital strategy as a result. It registered 14,000 people for online courses in 2019/20, 15% of total candidate numbers, against 5,000 – 5% of the annual candidate numbers – in 2108/19.

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.

“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 e-books in other key languages. We will also continue preparations for the launch of our first beer qualifications.”

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