Immigration general manager Stephen Dunstan blamed the Christchurch earthquakes of 2011, the state of the global economy and high New Zealand dollar.
“The earthquakes have meant a reduction of 36 per cent of international students in the region since 2011,” he said.
“The earthquakes have meant a reduction of 36 per cent of international students in the region”
“It’s important to note there has been a drop in international education student numbers worldwide.”
34,700 first-time student visas were issued last year, down from 46,000 in 2009 – although the data excludes those who enrol in short-term English language courses on visitor visas.
Daren Conway, CEO of English New Zealand agreed with Dunstan’s prognosis, but said ill conceived immigration policies were also damaging confidence in markets such as China.
“Rather than identify trustworthy institutions that can be relied on to work only with professional agencies and to ensure students are bona fide and attending as they should, Immigration New Zealand tries to do all the risk assessment themselves,” he said.
“This means they screen out and scare off too many genuine students and they then over-react when they think they’ve got it wrong and turn back valid student visas holders at the border.”
“It’s started biting in the private college and vocational sectors, but it will eventually hit everyone”
Other factors include a reduction in diplomas offering part-time work rights and the “badly mishandled” reorganisation of offshore visa offices. So too a loss of business through Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Scholarship Scheme.
Conway said the fall had hit English schools “hard and first”, and encouraged the government to extend work rights to language students across the country, not just in Christchurch, as well reform working holiday visas.
“It’s started biting in the private college and vocational sectors, but it will eventually hit everyone, it’s simply a matter of timing. As is often pointed out, the language school sector is the canary in the mine,” he said.
New Zealand has an “ambitious target” to double its $2 billion export education sector by 2025, and has recently reformed health screening processes (saving students money), sped up visa processing and extended work rights to English language students in earthquake-hit areas.