International students will not return until end of April

New Zealand’s stricken international education industry will be one of the last among its main competitors to re-open to foreign students.

The country’s government has announced that vaccinated foreigners will be allowed into the country without a mandatory stay in a quarantine facility from 30 April next year.

But that date is problematic for New Zealand’s eight universities, which start their academic year in early March.

Only a handful of international students have been allowed into the country since it shut its borders to non-citizens at the start of 2020 to keep COVID-19 out.

Education New Zealand, the government body responsible for marketing New Zealand as an education destination, said international student numbers had fallen from 115,000 in 2019 to 70,000 last year and an even lower figure this year.

Universities had fared better than expected, estimating their enrolments at about 30% lower than normal, but the pandemic has cut millions of dollars from their income.

The Chief Executive of Universities New Zealand, Chris Whelan, told Radio New Zealand the border re-opening date put New Zealand at a disadvantage.

“We’re now going to be the last of the traditional international education countries that will be still either closed to international students or requiring students to come through managed isolation.

“It’s great to have the date at the end of April for re-opening but it’s still going to put us at least six months behind every other country,” he said.

Nevertheless, Whelan said universities were likely to enrol students for courses starting in the first semester in 2022.

He said they would use online teaching to work with the students for the first few months of the year until they could arrive in the country.

“On average it takes about five to six months from making an offer to a student for that student to work through all the things that they have to work through to get here, including flights, visa processing and just basically sorting out their finances.

“So we really want to make offers now if we can, so that students can start arriving as soon as possible in the first semester of next year,” he said.

Other parts of New Zealand’s international education community were less accepting of the government’s decision.

English New Zealand represents the country’s 20 main English language schools. Its chair Darren Conway said 30 April would be too late for its members, who were holding on “by their fingernails”.

“The problem is that we’re so much behind everybody else and New Zealand will just, I think, permanently lose market share to the rest of the world because of how slow we have been to act.

“Australia is welcoming international students for example from next week, from the first of December. We will be five months behind them. Why?”

Conway said there was pent-up demand for English language courses and he expected the industry would bounce back. However, he would be lobbying the government to let students return earlier than the end of April.

“Maybe we can hope that they will see the pace of change elsewhere in the world is much faster than it’s going here, but they’ve been unusually firm.

“I suppose one thing we can say here is at least they’ve given us a date, but that’s pretty cold comfort when [it’s] so far away. It’s very, very disappointing,” he said.