Foreign student numbers on the rise
By REBECCA TODD – The Press
Thursday, 25 October 2007
New Zealand's $2 billion-a-year international education sector is in good heart after years of uncertainty.
The latest figures from Education New Zealand show numbers of international students are on the rise after major dips since a peak in 2002.
The ability to attract students from countries other than China including Europe, South America and the Middle East has helped stabilise the industry.
The number of students from Saudi Arabia has leapt from none in 1999 to about 300 last year, while for India, it surged from 87 to 1721.
Education New Zealand spokesman Stuart Boug said the $2b industry was in good health.
Institutions had begun to diversify their range of students which also diversified financial risk, he said.
“The profile of students has changed and what they want is changing, but the underlying fact remains that international education is not a sunset industry whose time has come and gone,” he said.
Numbers of first-time visas for Chinese students have also been rising. Nearly 3000 visas were approved last year, up from 2530 in 2004/2005.
Boug said the figures were still low compared to the 2002 peak of more than 19,000, but were generally seen as healthy and manageable.
The China boom had brought problems in its wake such as issues around quality and the high risk that came with dependence on one market.
Having too many students from one nationality was not good for the industry, or for the students themselves, he said.
“During the China days it came easy. Now it doesn't, but institutions are a lot more focused on what sort of students they want.”
Around 90,000 international students studied in New Zealand last year, with about one in five in Canterbury.
New Zealand was also getting better at attracting high value, long-term tertiary education students.
“In 2003 we had 120,000 international students and that was a lot. You wouldn't want a lot more than that, particularly if half are in Auckland.”
Immigration Minister David Cunliffe yesterday announced a series of changes designed to make New Zealand a more attractive destination for foreign students.
From late next month, students will be able to stay in New Zealand for up to 12 months, instead of the current six months, while they look for skilled work.
Architecture and accounting graduates, who need three years' practical experience to gain professional registration, will be allowed to stay and work for three years without having to reapply for a work permit, and rule changes will also make it easier for English language students to work while they study.
Geos Christchurch Language Centre manager Joseph Burston said he was pleased with the Government initiatives which “made things fairer for students”.
Both South America and the Middle East had become target markets for English language providers and the industry was in a healthy state, he said.
“It's never safe to put all your eggs in one basket and it was certainly a lesson for the industry that hopefully it's taken on board,” he said referring to the effects of the China boom.
The number of Russians coming to New Zealand on student visas has quadrupled since 1999, from 55 to 207.
English language student Vorontsova Ksenia, from Russia, said New Zealand was seen as a good, friendly place to study.
Fellow student Daniel Eichert, from Germany, had taken up the opportunity to brush up on his English language skills through a four-week course while on a working holiday visa.
Saudi Arabian student Meshal Nijm was studying towards an engineering degree at Lincoln University and had enrolled in an English language course at Aspect. He hoped to work in New Zealand.
Research shows that 27 per cent of foreign students who began study between 1999 and 2001 gained residence or stayed in New Zealand to work.