international students in New Zealand
International students are unlikely to return to New Zealand this year. Source: MARTY MELVILLE/AFP

International students are unlikely to return to New Zealand this year, said New Zealand’s Finance Minister Grant Robertson.  

In an interview with Bloomberg’s Inside Track webinar, Robertson explained that the country will need time to establish the quarantine facilities needed to let students back in. 

He added that the existing quarantine capacity is being stretched by a surge in cases among New Zealand citizens returning home.

Tourism is an important industry, contributing 5.8% of the country’s GDP. Its closed borders for the past few months to help stop the spread of COVID-19, however, has had a grim impact on the country’s economy. 

international students in New Zealand

Afternoon traffic is seen after an ease in social restrictions due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in Auckland on June 19, 2020. Source: Greg Bowker/AFP

Foreign tourism was worth 16 billion New Zealand dollars last year and had been the nation’s biggest export earner. Meanwhile, the international education sector is worth NZ$5 billion a year.

Robertson said students are seen as more tolerant of a two-week quarantine than tourists because they will be in the country for several months to complete their courses. 

He added that it will be possible for the industry to resume when quarantine issues are resolved, but suggestions of a restart later this year are “obviously not going to happen.”

Uncertainty for international students in New Zealand

New Zealand has refrained from giving a definitive answer as to when international students can return to New Zealand, but the government is expected to announce a recovery plan this month, reported RNZ.

In May, New Zealand education minister Chris Hipkins was quoted saying by NZ Herald that the government is looking to allow international students to return to New Zealand if they can be quarantined safely.

Hipkins said international students were more likely than foreign tourists to want to come to New Zealand if there was still a need for a 14-day quarantine on arrival.

Recently, the government has ruled out international students returning in July and August in time for the next semester.

Speaking to RNZ, University of Auckland student Johnnie Wang said he was angry when he saw an email from the minister of education, Chris Hipkins, to the university which said “international students will not be returning to New Zealand in July or August this year. We hope that a suitable model can be developed so we can start to bring in small cohorts of students and begin building up towards 2021”.

In the same report, disgruntled doctoral student at the University of Otago, Ali Khan, has called for the government to treat PhD students and doctoral candidates as essential workers because without research and publication, New Zealand was going to “lose its strategic position in a very competitive market.”

“PhDs are creating new knowledge, epistemology, and solving for issues that are wide-ranging from medical operations, supply chain management, policies, laws, regulations, international business, hospital administration, financial sector, labour market performance, and so on,” he was quoted saying.

He said there hasn’t been any advice from the university or the government and how they’re handling PhD students, doctoral candidates and researchers. 

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