Overseas enrolments rebound in New Zealand universities

Slow easing of Covid border restrictions helped international education avoid purges elsewhere, figures suggest

July 2, 2024
Auckland New Zealand
Source: iStock

New Zealand’s universities mostly recovered their pre-Covid international enrolments in 2023, in a sign that the social licence issues plaguing other education host countries are having little impact on the Polynesian archipelago.

Newly released Education New Zealand (ENZ) figures show that the eight universities’ overseas student numbers rose 21 per cent last year to more than 29,000, barely 14 per cent below their 2019 peak.

Enrolments in other sectors grew even more strongly, raising overall foreign student numbers by two-thirds to almost 70,000. But this was “from a very low base”, acting ENZ chief executive Linda Sissons acknowledged. The figures show that overseas student numbers across schools, vocational institutions and English language colleges fell by almost 80 per cent between 2019 and 2022.

Dr Sissons said last year’s recovery confirmed the archipelago as “an attractive place to study” in “a safe, welcoming environment”.

“New Zealand is a small country and for many students, rubbing shoulders with people from other cultures gives them a greater understanding of the issues facing our complex world. In this time of fragile geopolitics, the melting pot of campus life can help build greater understanding and tolerance.”

The nation endured one of the longest Covid lockouts in the world, reopening its borders to foreign students more gradually and far later than its overseas rivals. Insiders now see this as a blessing in disguise, avoiding the rapid student influx that fuelled crackdowns elsewhere.

Applications to study in Canada have fallen by about 40 per cent after the Trudeau administration moved to cap student visas, double the wealth requirement for incoming students and impose new limits on their working hours. 

In the UK, the issuance of student visas fell 22 per cent after most learners were banned from bringing family members with them to the UK. 

Demand for Australian education remains strong, but visa grants have fallen 26 per cent as a result of processing delays and steeply increasing rejection rates – a decline that could accelerate after Australia more than doubled its non-refundable fee for student visa applications.

Public backlashes against soaring student numbers in all three countries, principally over housing concerns, are thought to have fuelled the changes in government policy. Dr Sissons said New Zealand had been cognisant that “we needed the return of students to be sustainable”.

“Considerable effort has been put into providing not only places in courses and institutions, but also the support structures for international students,” she said. “We certainly have more work to do to return to pre-Covid enrolments. But with a re-energised sector of education providers, we believe this is very achievable.”

An ENZ survey late last year found that 77 per cent of New Zealanders were supportive of international education, up from 47 per cent in 2016, although just 32 per cent thought the country’s housing, transport and medical services were equipped to accommodate international students.

Fee hikes for visas, including student visas, were flagged in New Zealand’s 30 May budget.


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Reader's comments (1)

Polynesian archipelago! That's a new one. Beats "the shaky isles" (which sometimes comes out of Australian commentary on Aotearoa New Zealand).