Back to top

From the Chair: NZ needs international students back before October

06 April 2022 | news

A group of international students chatting at a table. Image: Brooke Cagle/Unsplash

By Professor Jan Thomas
Vice-Chancellor, Massey University
Chair of the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors' Committee

I don’t know about you but I’m missing Aotearoa New Zealand’s international university students. And international university students are missing us. They’ve waited patiently through two long academic years impacted by Covid-19 and its associated border restrictions. And in large part they continue to wait as a third academic year passes them by.

My heart goes out to them, it really does, stranded offshore, desperately keen to study in New Zealand in 2022 but unlikely to be able to get here until the first semester of 2023 – if, as currently stands, they can’t start applying for a visa until the general border reopening in October.

It’s senseless and disrespectful to make them wait until October. The Government has already brought forward the border reopening for Australians and vaccinated travellers from 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. We should be showing these students how much we value their commitment and contribution to our country.

Some international university students want to return to finish studies started in New Zealand before the pandemic, while others have begun their studies online, doing what they’re able to until they can have the in-person learning experience they signed up for.

On top of those students is an even larger group – the ones weighing up their options, comparing New Zealand with long-reopened competitor countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, which have seen international students return in record numbers. Australia reopened to international students at the end of 2021 and has been luring them back with incentives such as visa fee rebates and extended working rights, 

It’s an anxious, stressful time for New Zealand’s existing and prospective international university students and university staff are advising and supporting them. The students are desperate to resume or begin their experience of studying and living in a country they know to be welcoming, inclusive and safe and to have a stunning natural environment – all important factors in their decision-making, according to an Education New Zealand survey published in December.

Meanwhile, New Zealand desperately needs their presence. One of the things I’m missing is the vibrancy and diversity they add to our communities, universities and otherwise. We’re losing out on the mixing and mingling of ideas and viewpoints that come when you bring people together from different backgrounds, cultures and experiences.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

  • Pre-Covid, universities and the other international education sub-sectors were New Zealand’s fourth largest export market, contributing around $5.1 billion in economic activity.
  • Every dollar an international student spends on tuition fees generates an additional $1.60 for the wider economy in tourism, hospitality, accommodation, retail, entertainment and travel, along with spill-over benefits to job creation and the viability of a range of tax-paying businesses.
  • International university students reduce the cost of providing domestic students with a quality university education, with domestic fees and tuition subsidies at least 15% lower as a result.
  • Their fees also contribute significantly to the ability of universities to provide scholarships to domestic students and to run equity and learner success programmes.
  • International postgraduate students make a major contribution to our research, science and innovation system. In addition to generating valuable knowledge during their studies, many remain afterwards, contributing directly to the system and to New Zealanders’ wellbeing, sustainability and prosperity. Many research projects have now slowed or stopped for lack of international postgraduates.

New Zealand should be prioritising the return of its international university students, not restricting them to limited rounds of border exemptions – 1,450 in the latest cohort, out of a total allocation of 5,000 for all the international education sub-sectors. Universities could have easily filled those 5,000 places on our own.

Image: Brooke Cagle/Unsplash