Foreign students bring positive impact to New Zealand's regions - report
University of Auckland students leaving the campus. The total economic value of New Zealand's burgeoning international education sector has surpassed NZ$4 billion. Source: Shutterstock

The total economic value of New Zealand’s burgeoning international education sector has surpassed NZ$4 billion (US$2.82 billion), with international students pumping in millions of dollars and generating hundreds of job opportunities in regions across the country, new research shows.

The report for the 2015-2016 period commissioned by Education New Zealand (ENZ), covers eight regions, namely Northland, Bay of Plenty (including Tauranga and Rotorua), Taranaki, Manawatu-Whanganui, Hawke’s Bay, Nelson Marlborough, Otago (including Dunedin and Queenstown) and Southland.

The highest regional foreign exchange earnings was in Otago, at NZ$174 million, with NZ$136 million of this generated in Dunedin. International students here spend an average NZ$33,100.

Enterprise Dunedin director John Christie told Otago Daily Times the figures showed just how important attracting international students was to Dunedin.

“This further reinforces our work with schools, the polytechnic and university, and others to position Dunedin as a premier international study destination through Study Dunedin,” Christie said.

The Bay of Plenty region follows Otago with the second highest contribution at NZ$118 million, with an average spend of NZ$28,500 per student.

Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller told Sun Live it was vital for the regions to share these benefits.

He said:

“International education makes a hugely important contribution to regional economies.”

Apart from their monetary contributions, foreign students also help diversify the regions.

“They also contribute to having a diverse population and making our students global citizens. They bring an awareness of global cultures and practices, and broaden our own students’ horizons to survive in a global environment,” Toi Ohomai chief executive Dr Leon Fourie said.

Positive impact nationwide

ENZ’s regional report was commissioned as a follow-up to its report last November titled The Economic Impact of International Education in New Zealand 2015/16, which found international students pumped in NZ$4.28 billion to the national economy.

According to the November findings, the economic value of international education jumped 50 percent from 2014, when the last formal measure tallied it at NZ$2.85 billion, making the sector (both onshore and offshore delivery) New Zealand’s fourth-biggest export industry.

The increase in number of foreign students and rising living costs, especially due to primary school students, were said to be the forces driving this huge increase.

“These findings help give us a more complete picture and gain a deeper understanding of the economic outcomes our regions are seeing due to the growth of international education, as well as where the opportunities lie,” the country’s Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Paul Goldsmith said in a press release.

He said it was also important to note international education had been creating and supporting jobs across the regions, with the sector directly linked to the creation of 504 jobs in the Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty area alone.

Expenditure by foreign students reportedly supported 32,000 jobs nationwide in the 2015-2016 period, a more than 14 percent increase compared to 28,000 in 2012-2013, according to the report.

The reports commissioned by ENZ come as the country tightens its immigration laws to stem the number of international students gaining automatic residency as skilled migrants. The move is to make way for more experienced and higher-skilled migrants to enter the country.

Foreign students studying in New Zealand’s universities and private training establishments (PTEs) make up the bulk of the total NZ$4 billion onshore contribution to GDP, at NZ$1.127 million (27.9 percent) and NZ$1.102 million (27.2 percent) respectively.

Biggest contributors

Chinese students form the largest group of students from abroad (26 percent of total international students), followed by India and Japan.

These three countries also generated the most contribution among all source countries, again with China at the top spot with contributions amounting to NZ$1.4 billion in total, followed by India (NZ$659 million) and Japan (NZ$288 million)

But it was students from Saudi Arabia and other Middle East students who were the biggest spenders per capita, due to their concentration in university courses. If tuition fees were excluded, South Korean students recorded the highest per capita spending.

“International education is a significant export industry for New Zealand, and it is important we know whether the benefits delivered are worth the investment made by the government and our regions,” Goldsmith said. (NZ$10 = US$7.04)

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