4 April 2024 at 3:00 pm

ENZ responds to international education commentary on NBR

ENZ Acting Chief Executive Dr Linda Sissons rebuts an economics commentary published on National Business Review (NBR) on Monday 25 March 2024. The rebuttal is published here on NBR and is reproduced below. 

In response to your piece “International education: wrong horse to back for export growth?my answer to the question is a hard “no. Here’s why.  

Students are returning to New Zealand. In the first eight months of 2023 international student enrolments topped 59,000 with all sectors experiencing growth except wānanga. Accepting that it is from a low base, comparing 2023 to 2022, Universities have bounced back strongly reporting a 15% increase from 24,040 to 27,535 

It is true that we have not yet returned to 2019 numbers. In my opinion, this is not a bad thing. During the pandemic years the sector lost people and capability. The recent moves of some of our competitors tell you what a sudden return to those numbers of students brings 

I want to address your correspondents concerns about the lack of a plan and competition within amongst universities. There is a plan. The New Zealand International Education Strategy, revised in 2022 in discussion with the sector and across Government, sets out the plan to develop a high-value, resilient and innovative education sector for both international and domestic students.  

I can also assure you that the sector is working together to achieve its goals, that all eight universities participated in a recent ENZ-led delegation to India, is just one example of the co-operation. 

International education is more than universities. In the first eight months of 2023 English Language Schools saw the greatest percentage increase in international enrolments, increasing by 347% from 1,565 to 7,001. Schools reported a 114% increase from 5,925 to 12,662. NZIST Te Pūkenga, a 32% increase from 4,955 to 6,560 and Private Training Establishments (funded and unfunded), a 13% increase from 5,000 to 5,671.  

Immigration New Zealand tell us that international student visa applications for all forms of study have increased by about 20 per cent in the peak application period. Between 1 October 2023 and 8 March 2024, they received over 31,800 applications for an international student visa. 

Today we have a base of international students in the country and the pipeline for the coming academic year has strong growth 

Our own research shows that the experience international students have while studying in New Zealand is a good one. In our Student Experience survey of 4,755 international students from more than 70 nationalities, 84 percent rated their overall experience positively, while another 83 percent said they would recommend New Zealand as a study destination. 

When these students return to their home, and 75% of international students return home after three years, they will be our word-of-mouth advocates – an advocacy we didn’t have during the COVID years. 

New Zealanders also appreciate the benefits of international students. In an ENZ survey of 1,100 New Zealanders conducted in December last year, 75 percent of respondents believe that international students benefit New Zealand. The Ipsos Fast Facts survey, which drew responses from all regions of the country, saw 80 percent of respondents highlighting economic benefits, particularly in local communities, as a key reason for their positive view.   

The results of the 2023 survey highlighted the continuing growth in support for international students and their positive impact on New Zealand since 2016 when only 57 percent believed international students helped the New Zealand economy and economic growth. 

We have students in New Zealand; a strong pipeline; students having a positive experience and advocating for New Zealand; and New Zealanders appreciating the benefits having of them in our communities. 

International education is highly competitive. Your correspondent rightly recognises that there are new competitors emerging and Singapore is a good example. We’ve also seen countries like South Korea, a core market for New Zealand, become competitors.  

This is not new. We have, and will always have, to compete to attract international students to New Zealand – that they are returning tells me our reputation is good and we remain an attractive option. 

Globally the number of international students has grown significantly over the past two decades from around two million in 1998 to over 6.4 million in 2020, according to UNESCO data. New Zealand only needs a very small proportion of what is effectively a supply-driven market to return to pre-pandemic levels of economic contribution and value. 

While I am confident that international education is not the wrong horse, achieving double the export earnings is going to require a lot of hard work and there is much to do. My point is, that in less than two years since the borders reopened in August 2022, the recovery has well and truly commenced, the progress made to date is significant, and as a sector we can be rightly proud of what we have achieved together. 


Linda Sissons

Acting Chief Executive, Education New Zealand

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