After closing its borders to most travellers in mid-March, New Zealand’s educational institutions are bracing for the impact of a drop in international student numbers.
Student visa holders can no longer enter the country unless an exception is made by Immigration New Zealand, while those currently in New Zealand have seen their visas automatically extended to September 25.
The country had recently reported an uptick in international student numbers at universities – post-study work rights had made it a more popular destination with Indian students, for example – with numbers growing 9.8% in 2018.
“Our major issue is not knowing how long the borders will be closed”
“New Zealand universities are facing the situation where they will have at least a quarter to one-third of their international students not turning up this year,” Universities New Zealand’s chief executive Chris Whelan told The PIE News.
“This will have a carryover effect next year, with uncertainty around borders opening and changing economic circumstances in the countries many of our international students come from.”
While Whelan added that universities are trying to adapt by “moving term dates, moving to block courses, and moving all learning online”, uncertainty over when students can return makes planning difficult.
“Our major issue is not knowing how long the borders will be closed. We are doing scenario planning but it is too early to say anything at this stage,” he said.
Immigration New Zealand has encouraged students to contact their education provider to discuss learning arrangements, adding that online attendance will be recorded.
“Providers have been agile and innovative in their responses. Many have moved to online delivery to continue to provide teaching and learning,” Grant McPherson, chief executive of Education New Zealand, told The PIE.
“Government agencies are also working closely together to identify and resolve issues for students and the sector. This includes developing modelling of future scenarios.”
In terms of language schools, the 22 members of English New Zealand usually enrol about 17,000 students a year.
With a little over 3,000 still in classes and the prospect of new students low – as is the case for language centres in the UK – the sector is hoping for extra government support.