Addressing NZIEC delegates in Auckland, the incumbent National and opposition Labour parties detailed a shared commitment to the sustainability of the international education industry, which currently contributes $4.5bn to New Zealand’s economy while providing significantly varied approaches to achieving that goal.
Among the approaches, Labour’s education spokesperson Chris Hipkins confirmed his party’s target to reduce net migration by up to 30,000 through the removal or replacement of certain work rights, primarily targeting international students in low-level qualifications.
“[National] think it’s closer to $1bn if you are knocking out a quarter of the industry”
Limiting students visas is expected to generate a fall of up to 10,000, while removing work visas without a job offer for lower level qualification graduates will cut a further 12,000, the party has said.
“Work rights will no longer be automatic,” he told delegates.
“They will be attached to a particular qualification,” he continued, adding that while work would not necessarily be required to be part of academic studies, it would “need to be approved beforehand”.
Under his party’s plans, low-level qualification students will not have access to the open post study work rights unless they already had a job offer and will also be locked out of the current work during study model, which provides up to 20 hours per week, unless approved as part of their education.
Qualifying his comments, Hipkins said current opportunities to fill skills shortages through New Zealand’s work visa program would remain an option for international graduates.
Hipkins and National’s minister for tertiary education, skills and employment Paul Goldsmith disagreed on the potential economic impact of the reduction to international students.
Hipkins told The PIE News that Labour had undertaken an economic analysis of the proposed changes, finding a loss “in the vicinity of $130m [per year]”.
“Given the other pressures that the New Zealand economy is feeling from high immigration, that is a cost that we were willing to bear,” he added.
Goldsmith, however, told The PIE News the figure was an area of debate between the parties, saying “[National] think it’s closer to $1bn if you are knocking out a quarter of the industry.”
Instead, he argued for an enhancement of the regulatory processes to tackle fraudulent providers, and acknowledged the work of NZQA over the past 18 months, which has undertaken several high-profile investigations and closures of providers around the country.
Labour’s proposed changes, if implemented, would see further developments in New Zealand’s work visa system, after National announced its own set of changes earlier this year, determining skill level by remuneration level.
While an easing of previously stringent changes, National’s work visa system could potentially see international graduates classified “lower-skilled”.
Goldsmith told The PIE News the implication that bachelor’s degree level graduates were less low skilled would have little impact on the student market.
In explaining his party’s policies, Hipkins said Labour wanted “to make sure international education is primarily for education. Providers should not be marketing themselves as a migratory pathway.”
A commitment to proper funding of schools would ensure “international education is the icing on the cake, not the cake,” he added.
Goldsmith, meanwhile recommitted his party’s support of the international education strategy, currently in its consultation period which will end this month.
“Thank you for the wonderful work you are all doing. My priority is to ensure the sector remains high,” Goldsmith told delegates.
“We have a very strong market developing in China and India, and that’s great, but we want to diversify to other markets”
In a speech underscored by diversification of the industry, Goldsmith said National was keen to ensure the economic benefit was more evenly distributed throughout the country, which currently sees more than two-thirds of its international students in Auckland, and that the country did not become reliant on only one or two source countries.
“It’s all about diversifying our markets and innovative services,” he said.
“We have a very strong market developing in China and India, and that’s great, but we want to diversify to other markets.”
The addresses had a mixed reception from conference attendees.
One delegate from a PTE, the sector which was worst hit by closures due to high levels of fraudulent behaviour, told both Goldsmith and Hipkins that the sector was “not feeling loved”, and asked them to carefully consider their positions.
Both politicians renewed their internations to target “low quality providers”.
Other parties, which were not invited to speak at the conference, have also outlined policies around international education.
New Zealand First has followed Labour’s line, pledging sufficient funding to the tertiary education sector to achieve its goals and “end its dependence on international students.”
Charging of international school fees for children of non-tax residents and a removal of New Zealand’s point-based immigration system are among ACT New Zealand’s policies.
Polls have seen Labour make significant gains in the last few weeks, to trail National 44% to 37% and potentially handing New Zealand First the balance of power.
New Zealanders will go to election booths on September 23.
The 2017 NZIEC saw the conference continue to build upon its record numbers, with more than 730 delegates attend from New Zealand and around the world.