Overseas students trickle into New Zealand before border reopens

Special intake should be at least doubled, vice-chancellor says

May 6, 2022
Air New Zealand planes in Auckland International Airport
Source: iStock

Around 1,500 foreign university students appear set to gain early entry to New Zealand ahead of the planned scrapping of border controls in October.

Government promotional and support agency Education New Zealand (ENZ) has reported a “strong start” to a scheme to fly in 5,000 overseas students by midyear under the latest “border class exception”.

Dubbed “cohort 4”, the group is the largest of four special intakes of students, more than doubling the combined tally admitted under three border exceptions in 2020 and 2021.

Universities have been allocated 1,450 places, with 1,000 going to schools and 1,000 to English language colleges. The remainder have been shared among public and private vocational education providers.

Students must be nominated by their education institutions to be eligible for the places. Nominations opened at the end of March, with 3,500 places claimed by late April ahead of a 6 May nomination deadline. The University of Auckland, which has been allocated 375 places, said it had completed the nomination process within a fortnight.

ENZ indicated that language colleges and private training providers had struggled to fill their quotas, suggesting that other providers – potentially including universities – may be granted extra places.

However, any influx of foreign university students will fall far short of the numbers required to replicate pre-Covid enrolments, which reached an all-time high of 28,000 in 2019 before falling by around one-quarter the following year.

It remains to be seen whether such numbers can be repeated any time soon. The sector’s reputation, which had ridden high on the country’s enviable management of the pandemic and its generosity to foreigners experiencing hardship, took a battering as would-be students grew frustrated with the extended border closure.

In a recent survey by international education services company IDP, New Zealand ranked last among the major English-speaking education destinations on five key criteria that influence students’ choices.

Massey University head Jan Thomas, who chairs the New Zealand vice-chancellors’ committee, said universities could “easily” have filled the 5,000 places without the other sectors’ help.

She said the government had already brought forward the border reopening for vaccinated people from Australia and other “visa waiver” countries. “It should do the same for international students or else double the latest cohort of border exemptions from 5,000 to 10,000.”

Professor Thomas said New Zealand campuses were “losing out on the mixing and mingling of ideas and viewpoints” that international students allowed. She highlighted their contribution to research and science, their cross-subsidisation of domestic education and their generation of NZ$5.1 billion (£2.7 billion) of economic activity.

Many were unlikely to reach the country before the first semester of 2023 “if, as currently stands, they can’t start applying for a visa until the general border reopening in October. New Zealand should be prioritising the return of its international university students, not restricting them to limited rounds of border exemptions.”


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