Universities to join push for more Indian students

New Zealand’s universities are making a coordinated push to attract more Indian students after watching other tertiary institutions more than double enrolments from the sub-continent in two years.

In 2013, New Zealand hosted 11,550 full-time equivalent Indian students. The following year it enrolled 19,530 and by 2015 it had 28,445.

The growth occurred entirely in polytechnics and private institutions, and universities missed out altogether, enrolling only 1,250 Indian students last year – about the same number as in 2010.

But the Indian boom has not been problem-free. Immigration New Zealand has detected high levels of fraud in study visa applications and has been turning down roughly a third of applications from India each year. Earlier this year it put several institutions, including polytechnics, on a watch-list because it was declining more than half the study visa applications from their prospective Indian students.

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority has also been battling to weed out low-quality education providers that enrol large numbers of Indian students whose primary aim is to gain work and residence rights.

And the Indian community says there is widespread exploitation of former students willing to pay thousands of dollars for jobs that will help them get residence in New Zealand.

The executive director of Universities New Zealand, Chris Whelan, said universities were unlikely to run into problems with enrolments from India because they had higher entry standards than other institutions.

"We certainly haven't seen in any other market issues around quality because in general if you're coming for a three- or four-year degree here, you have to pass those high-quality entry standards," Whelan said.

The education spokesperson for the India Trade Alliance, Edwin Paul, said universities would not attract problem students from India.

"Most of the fraud that New Zealand has faced has been in the private education sector where students are trying to use a diploma-level qualification as a pathway for immigration," Paul said.

"Also, the entry criteria for universities are quite rigid. Those who make the cut for universities are usually not from the risk bandwidth,” he said.

However, an immigration advisor and student agent, Munish Sekhri, said universities might have trouble enrolling students due to strict rules about students’ finances.

"Any applicant from India has to show funds, liquid funds, which have been in their accounts for about six months, and Immigration New Zealand does not recognise the recent sale of land or gold, so that could be a deterrent," he said.

Sekhri said the six-month requirement was likely to push Indian students to apply to institutions in Australia or Canada instead of New Zealand.

Meanwhile, Whelan said New Zealand’s universities had not been part of the Indian enrolment boom because they did not have a strong profile in India.

"New Zealand hasn't necessarily been well understood as a destination for high-quality, degree-level education and many Indian employers have never really heard of New Zealand," he said.

In addition, many Indian students wanted to enrol in one-year courses that would help them gain permanent residence in New Zealand, rather than in the three-year degrees popular with most foreign students in New Zealand universities.

Whelan said the universities were working together to promote themselves in India.

"A lot of our work is going to be really talking to some of the agents who provide advice to young people about where to study, to schools that traditionally a lot of these kids are coming out of and who are going to be studying abroad, but also just growing that general awareness of the New Zealand education system among Indian business."

Whelan said he expected universities’ Indian enrolments would start to increase early in 2018.