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Impact of Border Closures on NZ's International Education Sector

The closure of borders and international travel restrictions during the initial lockdown phase has significantly impacted the total number of international students in New Zealand. From the predicted 21,000 – 22,000 in 2020, the numbers were merely 12,000 at the beginning of April. However, Immigration New Zealand has confirmed that visa applications for international students will begin on 31st July 2022.

The announcement is a relief to thousands of international students who have applied for the new session in New Zealand universities. The lack of international students on campuses from 2020-2021 has resulted in a lack of diversity and different perspectives in classroom discussions. Moreover, international travel restrictions have also resulted in New Zealand going off-radar as a potential destination for students seeking higher education overseas.

To combat this situation, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern personally flew to the United States to meet with President Joe Biden and promote the opening of universities in the country. In addition, the deputy vice-chancellor of Victoria, Blair McRae, has also highlighted the need to adopt proactive measures to get back international students amidst intense competition from Australia, Canada and the UK.

However, despite the resumption of offline classes, officials have kept realistic expectations for the number of international students applying in 2022 and 2023. A spokesperson from the University of Auckland believes that it will take "many months" before New Zealand sees a large number of overseas applicants.

Universities Believe International Student Numbers to Increase to Pre-COVID Times by 2024
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However, expectations for the numbers to return to pre-COVID times by 2024 are incredibly high. 2021 witnessed a 72% increase in international student applications. However, New Zealand is not out of hot water yet, as 2022 saw only 30% enrolment till July. Due to universities facing an immense challenge to boost applications to normal, no specific target has been set for 2023.

Despite struggling financially due to the lack of international students, the institutions can manage the situation by attracting more local students. However, several universities have admitted that the loss of intellectual discussions and varying perspectives in the classroom is a more significant loss to universities in New Zealand.

Thus, in New Zealand’s campaign to attract more international students, the country keeps highlighting that there’s more to studying in the country other than good earning opportunities. For example, Grant McPherson has focused on the opportunity to have new valuable experiences significantly different from the student's home countries.

  • Ashwini Kumar
  • November 23,2022
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