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International students

With its enviable outdoor lifestyle and affordable quality education, New Zealand is keen to attract many more international students

New Zealand was one of the first Western countries to respond to a dramatic under-supply of university places in China by actively recruiting Chinese students in the late 1990s. The results were dramatic, and New Zealand fast became a top destination for Chinese students in the early years of the 21st century. As competitor countries relaxed immigration standards, however, and the New Zealand market suffered from bad press in the Chinese media, the bubble burst and enrolments from China dropped dramatically.

The number of Chinese international students in New Zealand plummeted from approximately 56,000 in 2002 to less than 25,000 in 2007. Now, the pendulum is beginning to swing in the other direction, and New Zealand is once again seeing significant growth in Chinese enrolments.

At the same time, universities in New Zealand are targeting international students from new markets such as India and Saudi Arabia, hoping that a global focus on frugality in the economic downturn of 2009 – with the falling New Zealand dollar making study in the country more attractive – will bring more students into the country from overseas. Applications are up by 10 to 20%, although it is still too early to tell how many of these applications will convert to enrolments.

According to government figures, international student enrolments declined by 34% between 2004 and 2008. Institutions including the universities of Auckland, Otago, Massey, Victoria and Auckland University of Technology (AUT) appeared to be struggling to attract international scholars. On the other hand, the universities of Waikato and Canterbury registered increases in international student numbers of seven and four per cent respectively during the same period.

Keen interest from India
In India, the Economic Times recently reported that Indian students are taking advantage of the New Zealand student visa programme, due to the fact that it offers opportunities for work in the country.

For the current year, it says, 4,354 Indian students have left to study in New Zealand, an increase of 131%. It adds that the agricultural economy is very strong in New Zealand and agricultural commodities and dairy farming are sectors which are seeing a boom, with many well-paid jobs available. New Zealand also has a large number of Indians coming via Fiji, many of whom have done well in professions such as medicine and law.

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) and Education New Zealand have been organising education fairs in India, wooing Indian students with an enticing mix of quality courses and New Zealand’s celebrated leisure environment.

NZTE officials say that in the year 2005 there were 2,000 Indian students in New Zealand, but that number had increased to 6,000 as of March 2009 and the target is to go higher still. 

“We have many students from Punjab,” says New Zealand trade commissioner in Delhi Cliff Fuller. “Even in other parts of the country, we have a great response. Indian students are mostly interested in business and IT related courses, travel, hospitality and media and design. There is also interest in niche courses such as viticulture (growing grapes, mainly to make wine), plant science and horticulture, food technology and sports management.” 

“Education visas for New Zealand are fairly easy to get,” adds NZTE business development manager Jugnu Roy. “In fact, since most of the universities and institutes communicate with students via our 21 local agents in India, the process of application is very simple.” 

China crisis
As indicated above, the number of Chinese international students in New Zealand has more than halved since 2002, from around 56,000 to less than 25,000 in 2007. Overall, international student numbers hit 126,000 in 2002 but have since fallen to just over 90,000.

Education New Zealand chief executive Rob Stevens confirms that the bubble effect was caused by high Chinese numbers, which were never going to last.

“We were the first Western country,” he says, “to open the door to recruiting Chinese students. Other countries had quite high barriers, mainly due to political reasons. Then all of our competitors came in, so we were naturally going to decline.”

The collapse of two high-profile private training institutes in 2003 - Carich and Modern Age - also had a very negative impact.

Since then, students from India and Saudi Arabia have increased in number but the loss from China, and from other Asian markets such as South Korea and Japan, has continued to drag the numbers down. Now there is a serious push to win back students from these countries.

“With offshore consumers more focused on seeking value for money,” continues Rob Stevens, “New Zealand's value proposition - quality education at an affordable price - will be more attractive relative to our traditional competitors.”

The policy seems to be working well: the University of Auckland says its applications are 20% up on last year and AUT also reports a 17% increase in international student applications. Lincoln University too has seen international applications rise by 15% this year, although it adds cautiously: “The application is the easy part. It is converting the applications to enrolment that is tricky.”

Facts and figures
The international student industry in New Zealand:

  • earns $2.3 billion a year
  • employs 32,000 people
  • attracts more than 90,000 students each year.

The top 10 home countries of international students in New Zealand in2007 were:

* China: 27.1 per cent
* South Korea: 19.6 per cent
* Japan: 13.4 per cent
* India: 4.1 per cent
* Germany: 3.4 per cent
* Thailand: 3.2 per cent
* Taiwan: 3.1 per cent
* Saudi Arabia: 2.9 per cent
* Brazil: 2.7 per cent
* USA: 2.5 per cent

Total numbers
* 2003: 121,164
* 2004: 112,664
* 2005: 98,268
* 2006: 95,296
* 2007: 91,301

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