New Zealand’s international education sector off to a strong start in 2015

New Zealand is building its international position as a study destination and has registered some important gains over the last year and more. From January to August 2014, for example, the country saw its international enrolment expand by 12% compared to the same period from 2013. The latest data shows that New Zealand is extending this growth trend into 2015 as well.

A strong 2014

The 12% increase in international student enrolments for January-August 2014 represented 10,000 additional students, a result helped along by a resurgence in the number of Indian students choosing New Zealand for their further studies. Indian student enrolments shot up from 10.5% in 2013 to 15.8% in the same period in 2014 (a 50% increase), with most of those gains concentrated in private training institutions. China remained the leading source of international students in New Zealand in 2014, but in the January-August timeframe, Chinese students’ share of total enrolment fell slightly from 32% in 2013 to 29.1% last year.

The latest government data tracks international student visa trends for all of 2014 and it shows that visa issuances continued to trend upwards for the entire calendar year. In total, the New Zealand government issued 8% more visas to international students in 2014 than in 2013 – reflected in that total is a 37% jump in first-time student visas and a 6% increase in returning student visas.

Good indicators for 2015 too

In the first two months of 2015, New Zealand saw a 9% increase in international student visas issued (or 1,694 additional student visas) over the same period in 2014, while first-time student visas were up by 21% (1,752 student visas).

Education New Zealand provides a helpful explanation regarding how to interpret the visa data:

“Student visa data is a strong indicator of whether students are entering, remaining, or leaving New Zealand to study, which can be used as a predictor for future enrolment trends.

  • Student visa trends allow us to analyse two key indicators: 1) growth of new students and 2) retention of students.
  • We use first-time student visas as an indicator of growth as it represents new students and the pipeline of students entering New Zealand.
  • Total student visas gives us an overview of all student visas (first-time student visas and students reissuing their visas).
  • We can analyse the retention of students by subtracting first-time student visas from total student visas.”

The spike in first-time student visas suggests good things for foreign enrolment going forward, as these are visas given to students who are just beginning their studies. If retained, they will be part of the country’s international enrolment base for some time. And, if the pattern holds true in New Zealand as in other major study destinations, many of those first-time students may progress to higher levels of study in the country.

The government data shows that the YTD growth can be mainly attributed to India, China, Thailand, Colombia, and the US. Notable decreases in total student visas are apparent for Japan (-22%, representing 121 fewer visas) and South Korea (-12%, representing 115 fewer visas).

If we look at first-time visas assigned to individual sectors, here are the year-over-year trends for first-time visas for the first two months of 2015:

  • Universities: up 12%, with the US up 47%;
  • Private Training Establishments (PTEs): up 23% (and 46% of all first-time student visa approvals for this sector are Indian);
  • Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs): up 64% (and 64% of all first-time student visa approvals for this sector are Indian);
  • Secondary Schools: down 7% (driven by a loss in scholarship students from Latin American markets, namely Chile’s Penguins without Borders scheme) – but February approvals have grown by 27%;
  • Primary Schools: down 4%;
  • Intermediate schools: essentially flat, with marginal growth of 2% YTD February.

A new association for schools

As we can see from the above data, the K-12 sector is not growing at the same pace as other education sectors in New Zealand. But now, the schools sector has banded together to expand its marketing and recruitment efforts through the newly formed Schools International Education Business Association of New Zealand (SIEBA). SIEBA, currently comprising 15 member-institutions, says this of its mandate:

“From marketing to code attestation advice, SIEBA will provide schools with leadership, access to collaborative projects and best practice, enabling them to grow their international student numbers and respond to commercial opportunities.

For other sectors of New Zealand’s international education industry, SIEBA will be the “go to” place for those providers wishing to collaborate with schools in establishing stronger pathways for international students in to tertiary study.”

SIEBA is now welcoming other schools in New Zealand to join the association, provided they are signatories to New Zealand’s Code of Practice for the Pastoral Care of International Students (COP).

Work and settlement rights up for debate

As New Zealand continues to attract growing numbers of international students, one of the country’s main drawing cards is provoking some debate. New Zealand institutions have in recent years promoted post-graduation work and immigration opportunities for international students. But not all New Zealanders are happy with this situation.

Government data shows that close to four in ten (37%) of all foreign students who study in New Zealand remain in the country to work. In 2013/14, 42% of skilled migrants were former students of New Zealand institutions. The International Business Times notes that educators predict these percentages will go up due to increasing numbers of Indians enrolling in New Zealand schools who “are generally interested in work and settlement in New Zealand compared to other student groups.”

Some believe that international students’ work obligations are hurting their studies and well being, while others believe that students who become migrants are taking jobs away from New Zealand natives. Those who have no problem with the student-to-migrant immigration route cite the need for skilled migrants in the New Zealand economy.

Jenny Dixon, deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Auckland, holds the latter position, but with a caveat. She told the International Business Times that more quality control is required on institutions enrolling international students to ensure that first and foremost their programmes and standards are high enough that they graduate the kind of migrants the country needs.

There is also some debate among educators as to how significant a factor employment opportunities are in the decision-making process for students. Education New Zealand Chief Executive Grant McPherson downplayed the education-employment link in a recent interview with Radio New Zealand: “We’re not seeing that the international education providers are the pathway to employment in New Zealand, but that’s not saying it isn’t a pathway people will think about and explore.” Others, such as Auckland Institute of Studies President Richard Goodall, suggest the linkage between the two is more clear. Mr Goodall says of his institution, “We’ve decided we’re actually in the education, settlement, and work/employment business.”

The discussion points to the complexities of intertwining international education and labour markets – as much as these two parts of knowledge economies are mutually dependent. New Zealand’s continued success in attracting foreign students suggests that the debate will persist, and that appropriate and effective quality controls will indeed be essential to the sustainability of the sector, and also for its continued growth through 2015 and beyond.



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