Education Minister Chris Hipkins flies overseas to woo international students
Government officials say New Zealand is still on the international education radar, but industry members aren’t so sure
Big challenges, but bigger opportunities.
This is how the Minister for Education describes New Zealand’s struggling international education sector, ahead of the reopening of the country’s borders, while industry players say the country has missed the bus at enormous cost to New Zealand.
Chris Hipkins is on the ground in Denver, Colorado, where he is due to deliver a speech to the hundreds of education industry members gathered at the 2022 NAFSA conference, hosted by the Association of International Educators.
Hipkins is here to, in his own words, proudly represent New Zealand and to “tell you all in no uncertain terms that we are here to welcome international students to our country”.
On July 31, the international border will be fully reopened and Hipkins would like to clarify that New Zealand will be open for business, including international students.
Prior to the opening of the border, the government created space for 5,000 foreign students through border class exemption, with visa processing currently underway for these places.
New Zealand fears have become ‘invisible’
As Hipkins gallops to defend New Zealand as an attractive study destination – from cultural experience to academic standards – he tempers his enthusiasm by acknowledging there are hurdles to overcome after two years of a global pandemic.
“As we look to the future, we face not only a time of great challenges, but also greater opportunities.”
According to Education New Zealand (ENZ), before 2020, over 115,000 international students were studying in New Zealand. Today, they are less than 20,000.
ENZ Managing Director Grant McPherson is traveling with Hipkins and after the US he will lead a group to South America, stopping in Chile and Brazil.
McPherson has plenty of good things to say about the trip, even if he lets his worries slip away. New Zealand had fallen off the radar as a desirable international study option because other countries opened the door to overseas travelers much earlier.
“My fear as managing director is that we become invisible, but what we see is that we are still very well liked and people still want to engage with us. It has been very good days”, he said.
“The feedback we’ve had has been incredibly positive and we feel like we haven’t gone off the radar.”
From there, he says, the focus is on rebuilding relationships with foreign organizations and students.
“It won’t necessarily be easy, but we just have to keep the momentum going. It ensures that we keep the brand alive, the message alive, but also, very importantly, that we keep those relationships alive,” he says.
No Covid-19 persistence
The momentum is exactly what Darren Conway, chief executive of English school Languages International, thinks New Zealand has missed out on.
Conway, who is also chairman of English New Zealand, has just returned from a three-week business trip that stopped in Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and Germany.
He describes the delay in opening New Zealand’s borders as meaning that other English-speaking destinations have left this country in the dust.
While he supports the government’s initial response to Covid-19, he doesn’t think it has led Covid-hesitant international students to view New Zealand as a safer study option.
“We had no afterglow on the quality of Jacinda or the quality of our response. We think our response has been great, but reopening has been slower than necessary. »
Conway believes this lag will cost the country dearly as the number of international students who would normally be in the country this year will not start studying until next year.
“It will cost us billions of dollars, not hundreds of millions – billions.”
Despite this, he hopes the sector will look healthy in early 2023 when students finally start arriving.
But until that happens, Conway says businesses dependent on the flow of students will struggle.
Global Student’s chief executive, Bridget Egan, runs one such company. She says it’s been incredibly difficult for companies like hers to keep their heads above water during the pandemic.
Those who survived drastically reduced their staff and working hours to stay afloat.
Nor has there been a sudden spike in demand since the border reopening was announced, Egan said.
“It’s a dribble. The small request we have was based on keeping the wheels spinning throughout the border closure. »
This includes ensuring clients are kept up to date with border settings and updating student documents.
Egan believes many potential students will have chosen to go to other countries, such as Canada or Australia, which have already reopened their borders.