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NZ: “very different, very positive” industry will rebound by 2030

New Zealand’s $4.9bn international education sector could take a decade to get back to the situation it was in prior to the global health pandemic, but it will also be a very different industry that “serves a wide range to goals that suit this country”, Education New Zealand has said.

Education New Zealand chair Steve Maharey and chief executive Grant McPherson at the committee meeting on April 7. Photo: Facebook/ NZ Parliament

According to ENZ, currently 5,000 international students study NZ education offshore

A focus on value over volume was advocated by the agency responsible for the country’s international education sector as it uses insight from previous shocks to the sector to rebuild, such as the Christchurch earthquake.

Speaking to the New Zealand Parliament’s Education and Workforce Select Committee, EdNZ said by 2030 it can expect to rebuild its international education sector to pre-pandemic levels.

“We do have an estimate of that, particularly from experience of what has happened elsewhere. After [the Christchurch earthquake] for example, it took about 10 years to go back to the kind of situation they were in before,” said Education New Zealand chair Steve Maharey.

“This of a different magnitude and the risks are higher”

The earthquakes in Christchurch and Canterbury in the early 2010s have “given us some experience in how you build back an industry… It took time but the industry was strong and was able to do that. Those lessons are ones that we are taking into account now.

“But this of a different magnitude and the risks are higher,” he added, and in 2030, the sector will be “very different, very positive”, he advised, speaking on moving to be less reliant on China and India.

Prior to the pandemic, New Zealand hosted some 120,000 international students, and ENZ estimates suggest that capacity is around 150,000 international students. “There is probably not a lot of growth potential domestically, but there is some,” said Maharey.

“The ‘build back better’ slogan, applied to this [sector], would mean building a stronger, more diverse industry here onshore that was focused more on value than on volume,” he said.

As set out in the 2020 strategic recovery plan, Maharey reminded the committee of the potential of the 150m students already studying online globally.

“We have suggested before, like many other countries, moving into the international arena in the sense of going offshore opened up a whole new dimension of what this area of work could do for the country.”

There was emphasis on entering the “burgeoning market of people who study offshore online” prior to the pandemic, where New Zealand had “a very small footprint in that market”.

However, the pathway project to help students begin their studies offshore before arriving in New Zealand is one that “has got its eye very firmly on the future”, Maharey added.

“It will take multiple years to rebuild the front end of the [student] pipeline”

According to ENZ, currently 5,000 international students study NZ education offshore.

However, the government allowed 250 places in a controlled intake of international students in 2020 during Covid and 1,000 students will arrive in spring 2021 to “begin getting the system warmed up again” for student mobility, Maharey added.

The body was questioned by National Party MP Erica Stanford on the reputational damage the country has faced while closed borders mean students remain unable to return to the country.

“Our reputation for our country is still very high and we are still seen as high demand,” said Grant McPherson, ENZ chief executive. “Education quality is still highly regarded and the key to it will be can people get access to it.”

He added, “The UK is leading because they are open and therefore their reputation is high and students are still going there. Canada is high. We are still within the top five countries to come and study [in],” he said.

The agency has worked to keep New Zealand “relevant” and “visible” in international markets during the last 14 months, McPherson noted.

“It will take multiple years to rebuild the front end of the [student] pipeline. It’s not like tourism, these are big decisions they are making and big investments so they do take time.”

While destinations such as Canada and the UK have remained open for international students to arrive, New Zealand has “balanced off by reassuring people” it is a safe destination with its success at controlling Covid-19, Maharey suggested.

“Our reputation for our country is still very high”

Before Covid, the agency’s prime focus was on “how to be more resilient” in the sector, with a move away from dependence on China and India markets, as well as diversifying destinations within New Zealand for international students, Maharey noted.

Along with China and India, ENZ tipped Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia as countries with “good engagement”, as well as Brazil. Indonesia is also of interest looking ahead, the agency hinted.

Another National Party MP, Penny Simmonds, asked about possible incentives to spread the international student cohort beyond Auckland, saying we “don’t want to see them all of Queens Street again”.

“The work rights idea is a good one,” Maharey said, indicating more casual work may be available in other destinations in the country.

“If we could work with immigration and work with local authorities on ensuring that part of the marketing was to say that if you were to move to wherever there would be opportunities to study and work, that would make a huge difference. Not easy but it would be one of the crucial things to making this work.”

Australia has in the past outlined plans to offer additional post-study work visa and scholarships as incentives for international students to opt for regional study destinations.

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