New Zealand universities are predicting growth of more than 20 per cent in international student numbers this year, due to a low exchange rate, agreements with Chinese universities and a flood of international students coming out of local secondary schools.
It was only the growth in overseas recruitment that prevented overall enrolment falling last academic year. But there have been concerns over the rapid pace of growth and over the mix of international students.
The University of Waikato, 20 per cent of whose students are international, plans to increase marketing outside Asia in an effort to attract a more multicultural student body.
Peter Oettli, pro vice-chancellor, international, at Waikato, said that the university was conservatively projecting a 20 per cent increase this year, with most entrants coming from China.
Rao Bhamidimarri, principal of Massey University, said he anticipated growth of 25 per cent in international student numbers in 2002. An agreement with a Chinese private education company should help secure this, he said.
Professor Bhamidimarri said a priority for the university's internationalisation strategy was the ethnic diversity of its student mix. "It may be easy to get students from one source but it is much harder attracting students from outside China," he said.
Professor Oettli said that universities could not keep taking greater numbers of Chinese students and maintain high educational standards and good support structures. But the low exchange rate and the perception among Chinese parents of New Zealand as a safe destination meant numbers keep growing.
John Sargent, programmes director at Education New Zealand, which markets the country as a study destination, said a number of institutions were focusing on quality rather than quantity. He said he did not expect this year's growth to match that of 2001, when a number of universities doubled their international student numbers.
But Mr Sargent acknowledged that institutions facing funding shortfalls from domestic student fees and government subsidies might continue taking greater numbers of international students if it helped in meeting budgets.
A recent source for recruitment of international students appears to be local secondary schools. Alexia Bannikoff, director of international students at the University of Auckland, said the university was already beating its enrolment targets for 2002 and there had been a flood of applications from international pupils.