Concern NZ’s international education sector faces 'total collapse', as students look elsewhere while borders shut

Kate Nicol-Williams
Source: 1News

The Schools International Education Business Association is warning if the border doesn’t open to school-age international students, or if there isn’t a clear plan for when this will happen by the end of the year, the sector will be in “total collapse”.

About 5000 overseas students have remained in the country during the pandemic, but before Covid-19, this number was around 22,000, SIEBA executive director John van dar Zwan told 1 NEWS.

Van der Zwan says pre-Covid-19, these enrolments brought $180 million to school budgets for staffing, student courses and opportunities and building development.

He said if there isn’t an announcement for international school students being able to enter the country again, then schools “will be lucky to have students in the hundreds” next year.

Nelson College headmaster Richard Dykes said the school had cut about five staff in the past 12 months. Without a change to the border situation, he said the school will likely have to cut more.

“I was just talking to a parent last night talking about the way we've had to increase student numbers in classes — that’s a direct result of having lower international income,” he said.

Annual international student tuition fees are $18,000 for a returning student or $20,000 for a new student at the school.

Dykes said overseas student recruitment agencies are telling him students are going to Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“That’s pushing us down the order and again it’s not so much the immediate impact but the tap won’t turn back on immediately — that will be a five to 10 year impact on our international education programme,” he said.

He said the situation has a wider impact on the community as international students create jobs for schools in areas like hostels staffing and pastoral support.

“If the students aren’t here, that’s jobs we can’t provide, that’s families being affected by that.”

“Other schools with homestays — income that doesn’t go to those families through the year, and that is going to circulate through the economy,” Dykes said.

Dykes said schools need guidance on when international students will be able to enter the country in the next two months so there is time to communicate with international agencies and plan for enrolment and the travel process for students including managed isolation.

“We're getting no answers, I think we've got to change from saying we don’t have an answer yet to saying what is our strategy?” he said.

“We really want to have that dialogue with the Minister and the Ministry and say what is the strategy?

"It’s not okay to keep the door closed, we need a strategy to rebuild and to relaunch this industry and protect New Zealand jobs and the education of young people.”

SIEBA is calling for increased emergency funding from the Government so schools can keep staff employed.

“We think there’s a good case and responsibility for the Government to do this and support schools in losing revenue,” SIEBA executive director John van dar Zwan said.

He is also calling on the Government to reconsider the sector’s proposal for creating managed isolation facilities for international students.

“It’s an opportunity to have school students come with a parent and spend their isolation period in a dedicated facility,” he said.

The Education Minister said while that idea may sound good on paper, the reality is more complicated.

“We've looked really closely at the proposals that have been put forward by schools who want to set up specific facilities for international students, but also some of the tertiary providers have come up with similar proposals," Chris Hipkins said.

"The reality is it’s just not possible to do that without significantly increasing the risk."

He said his message for the sector is “2022’s looking better than 2021.”

Hipkins said the country will have to work hard to reset the international education model once the border opens again.

“We are doing things to make sure we are keeping those markets alive, that we're keeping New Zealand's presence visible in those offshore markets for international students.

"But, it is difficult and I don't want to diminish in any way the challenges that those institutions that work with large numbers of international students are facing at the moment.

“But like tourism, like other parts of the economy, they're just having to try and hold tight whilst we get through this,” Hipkins said.