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No promises on return of overseas students, minister says

Image: Stuartyeates [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

New Zealand’s education minister says recovery plan is being revised but cautions against “rushed rebuild”

Chris Hipkins, New Zealand’s education minister, has told universities and other providers that pathways to the full return of international students following the Covid-19 pandemic are yet to be established.

In a letter on 21 May, he wrote: “There is likely to be limited re-engagement with countries in which we have high levels of trust and confidence and those pursuing similar elimination strategies to New Zealand through most of 2021.”

The letter went to nine education groups, including Universities New Zealand, the New Zealand International Students’ Association and the Te Pūkenga Institute of Skills and Technology. It followed a meeting with education representatives on 11 May.

Strategic recovery plan

The country’s international education strategic recovery plan is being revised, Hipkins said in the letter, promising a consultation with international education representatives in May and June.

However, the government does not want to see the goals of “high-quality, high-value” international education “set aside in a rushed rebuild of the sector we had in place”, Hipkins wrote. The revision will include “a policy statement establishing what ‘high value’ means and what type of value we would like to prioritise”.

Hipkins hinted that special quarantine for students might be extended beyond existing arrangements. He referred to the approval already granted for 1,250 students to return, including the allocation of 400 managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) places. “Depending on the outcomes of this group MIQ booking, further ring-fencing of MIQ places for international students could be considered,” he said.

“While we cannot promise students any specific timeframes for entry in 2022, it is important that we are ready to act quickly when the opportunity arises.”

He added: “I am supportive of students currently committed to eventual study in New Zealand being able to commence tertiary study offshore. At the same time, we need to ensure we continue to deliver high-quality international education onshore in New Zealand.”

“I note the many concerns you face, including loss of revenue and specialist international education professional capability, loss of global market share and provider viability concerns. I also appreciate that some parts of the sector have been impacted more than others.”

Universities New Zealand was contacted for comment on the letter and its implications for the return of students and international research. In a short statement, UNZ said that it “continues to work with government to manage the safe return of international students”.