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Agents bemoan uncertainty over return of international students


Study agents want more communication from the New Zealand government

International study agents have told the New Zealand government that they see no clear path for international students to return to the country.

A report from Education New Zealand, the country’s international education authority, says: “Many agents reported that it was distressing and difficult to keep prospective students motivated about studying in New Zealand when there was little certainty around when they would be able to travel. They requested regular and direct communication from the government to international students, to provide a trusted source of information.”

Agents serving the New Zealand market reported huge hits to their turnover and businesses from the pandemic. Around 60 per cent had to cut staff, and three-quarters of those surveyed lost more than half their business.

Onshore vs offshore

The report shows that there were only 25,000 international students in New Zealand on 27 April, with just under 11,000 of those at universities. Before the pandemic, there were an estimated 20,000 international students at universities, with tens of thousands of others at schools and non-university institutions.

University offshore enrolments, meanwhile, were up by 238 per cent in 2020.

“In 2020, nearly 8 in 10 international students who studied outside New Zealand were from China, reflecting the fact that restrictions on entering New Zealand from China were put in place in early February 2020,” the report says.

India, New Zealand’s second biggest market, had a different profile, with smaller numbers enrolling offshore.

Slow recovery

Steve Maharey, chair of Education New Zealand, has said that it could take up to 10 years to build back the numbers that were onshore before the pandemic. Chief executive Grant McPherson said in the report that “sustainable growth, an excellent education and student experience, and increased global citizenship for New Zealand students” were the goals for the organisation.

Arrangements are underway for around 1,000 undergraduates to enter the country, following on from a pilot that brought in about 250 postgraduates earlier in the year.

Online enquiries to Education New Zealand showed no significant increase in interest in online study compared with in-country study. The agency has also been involved in the promotion of online partnerships with China, South Korea, Japan and South American nations.

“Education New Zealand and the United States’ National Science Foundation are looking to partner together to fund bilateral Indigenous researcher collaboration between Māori and US Native American and Indigenous groups,” the report says.

Lower levels of international secondary students in the country are likely to affect university enrolments, the report warns. In 2019, 87 per cent of Year 13 students who stayed in the country for tertiary study enrolled at university.

From 14 to 18 June, the agency is running an online workshop on international education issues.