NEW ZEALAND: Chinese student numbers on the rise

Bucking a trend that appears to be dogging two of its competitors for international students – Australia and the UK – New Zealand's education system is enjoying a rebound in enrolments by Chinese students.

Their numbers soared in New Zealand in 2003 and 2004 to the extent that some universities drew as many as a quarter of their students from overseas, most from China. But numbers have been dropping steadily ever since, though the pipeline effect of that boom is still working its way through the system.

Last year, however, new enrolments by Chinese students rose for the first time since 2001-02 and this year new enrolments were expected to rise again, according to export education industry body Education New Zealand. The organisation's communications director, Stuart Boag, said new Chinese enrolments were likely to exceed 3,500 for 2007-08, an increase of 20% on the previous year.

"We haven't seen a number like that since 2003-04," Boag said, adding that Chinese students were reappraising New Zealand after a phase when first Australia and then Britain were "flavour of the year". "The Chinese student of today is looking around in a fairly discerning way and New Zealand is not coming up short," he said.

Boag said despite several years of decline in overall numbers, Chinese students were still the single largest bloc of long term international students, with most in the university sector. They were closely followed by Japanese and Korean students who were concentrated in short term programmes at English language colleges and primary and secondary schools.

Unlike New Zealand, the UK recently recorded a drop in new Chinese enrolments and Australia has suffered a fall in new enrolments by foreign students overall although China remains the biggest supplier.

Australia's decline of 10% for new enrolments in February, compared with the same month last year, came after years of growth since the early 2000s. That growth had fallen to single digit rises in recent years and, in the 12 months to February, turned into a 1% decline in overall foreign student numbers on campus in Australia.

For some institutions the decline has been steeper. A sudden and catastrophic fall in overseas enrolments last May forced Central Queensland University to slash more than 200 administrative jobs. The 25% drop in foreign fee-paying students enrolled meant staff on contracts were forced to leave.

The university has the highest proportion of overseas students of any in Australia and relies heavily on their fees to maintain its campuses in Queensland, Sydney and Melbourne. The precipitous decline sent shockwaves across other universities which earn more than $1 billion a year from foreign students.

In Britain, the overseas market is booming but there are also signs of a slow down. Latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show a 7% rise in foreign students and a 6% increase in EU student enrolments between 2005-06 and 2006-07. But there was a 4% fall in students from China in 2005-06 and they make up 22% of all international students in UK higher education.

Competition is growing from Singapore, Malaysia, India and China; and northern European countries are offering an increasing number of courses in English.

* With additional reporting by Diane Spencer and Geoff Maslen
* John Gerritsen is editor of NZ Education Review.