The New Zealand government recently announced its five-step border reopening plan. Up to 5,000 international students for semester 2 can return from April 12, 2022, while all visa categories will reopen from October 2022, including visitor and student visas. The October visa processing will enable students to enrol for study in New Zealand in 2023. Despite that, would this be too little, too late for New Zealand’s universities?
Reopening puts New Zealand’s universities a year behind rival markets
Universities New Zealand chief executive Chris Whelan told Study International that despite this announcement, there has been “quite a high level of frustration” from students and universities. “We’re obviously very pleased to be reopening our borders; we just wish it was a lot faster,” he said. Universities New Zealand is the peak body for New Zealand’s universities.
Other rival study abroad destinations, including the US, the UK, Canada and Australia, have already reopened their borders to international students, but New Zealand would not be fully open until about a year after them, said Whelan.
“And that’s obviously a huge loss. But we also understand that from the point of view of New Zealand, we’re a country that’s managed to avoid any large COVID-19 outbreaks. There are public health considerations, and so it’s going to take time to work that through them,” he said.
Despite the mixed feelings, Whelan said they welcome the signals that the country is reopening. He added that they have a lot of students stuck offshore who are keen to return to the country quickly, and they are eager to give them the education that they signed up for.
Will New Zealand’s universities lose out on students to other markets?
There have been concerns from the international education sector that students won’t return to New Zealand’s universities as they might opt for other countries that are already open to them.
“What we know for sure is that people don’t put their lives on hold for a year,” said Whelan, adding that not many will necessarily wait to come to New Zealand and may consider other choices available to them.
“Students will absolutely do the rational thing for themselves,” he said. It’s a different equation, however, for some students, particularly PhD students or master’s students who typically want to study with a particular researcher or expert in their field of interest. “But for most undergraduates, you know, we are absolutely going to miss out to students going offshore,” he said.
New Zealand continue to receive interest from PhD students
Whelan explained that they have continued interest from PhD students who typically want to study with a particular researcher and experts in their field. He said they have had “no problems at all” with continued interest from potential PhD candidates throughout the COVID-19 period.
“It’s particularly undergraduates who are not wedded to a particular country or university or researcher, [and who] have a lot more choices,” he said. If New Zealand’s borders remain closed, agents will not recommend New Zealand to international students. Families themselves want their children to start their studies and “get on with their lives”, he said.
So, do New Zealand’s universities and the government have to work harder to woo students back to the country for 2023?
“We’re going to have to. We are very aware that students choose where they want to live and study for a whole range of factors,” he said, adding that this includes things such as post-study work rights. “Lots of students don’t take them up, but they like knowing that it’s an option,” he said.
Whelan added that the country has been a very attractive destination for international students in the past, with the ability to work while students study, to bring their family if they’re undergoing their PhD, as well as “generous post-study work rights”.
New Zealand Immigration notes: “Depending on your qualification and where you studied, you can work for any employer for between one and three years, and do almost any work.”
To boot, every one of the country’s eight universities is ranked in the world’s top 500, he said, adding that New Zealand offers international students a good lifestyle, a safe, tolerant and welcoming environment, and other things such as the ability to get practical work experience that would look good on students’ CV.
“I very much hope that that’s the sort of proposition that we’ll have when we have fully reopened again, and students will continue to see us as a really attractive place to study with,” he said.