By Meenu K Gulati
The COVID 19-pandemic has brought with itself unprecedented challenges in every sector including the global education market.
One country that is handling the pandemic well is New Zealand but Covid-19 has adversely affected its international education market, even though about 1,000 already enrolled students will be allowed to drip in to the country from April, 2021.
The international education market in NZ
One of the biggest New Zealand success story is its $5 billion international education sector. In recent years, it has become an example of a global, outward looking economy, that is connected to other parts of the world through education and tourism, both adversely impacted.
Because of the pandemic, the sector is facing a steep learning curve due to the falling number of students. It is struggling to cope with lower international student arrivals and the world that is still pretty much impacted by the dastardly virus. Teachers and professors are losing jobs especially across private colleges.
According to Education Minister Chris Hipkins, New Zealand’s international education is the country’s fourth largest export. ”About $4.8 billion is attributed to international students visiting New Zealand and $0.3 billion to education and training goods and services delivered offshore”.
The good old days
Between 2009 and 2018 (as per the latest public data), the Tertiary Education Providers or the TEPs saw an increase of 6% from 9% to 15% in arrivals of international enrolments.
The rest of the seats were filled up by the domestic students. Universities in New Zealand, Institutes of technology and polytechnic (ITPS), private training establishment (PTEs) form the Tertiary Education Providers.
The journey has not always been smooth. Between 2012 and 2016 New Zealand’s education sector saw a rapid increase in the number of international students. With this, there were questions being raised on the quality of education being provided in these institutes.
The New Zealand Qualifications Authority stepped in to address these issues, and it led to the shutting down of five PTEs.
However, this led to deep introspection and the international education sector of New Zealand emerged out of it stronger and well-prepared for future challenges. But nothing prepared them for the pandemic.
The impact of the pandemic
Initially 2020 brought with itself a lot of optimism as far as the international education sector is concerned.
However, the warning signs came early in February when Wuhan was completely under the grip of Corona virus, and in response to this crisis, the New Zealand government temporarily restricted foreign nationals entering New Zealand via China.
This prevented around 6,500 Chinese students from entering New Zealand to begin their first semester.
Then again in March New Zealand restricted entry to citizens and residents only. According to some reports, entry of approximately 16000 international students was prevented.
On 25 March, the government imposed a complete lockdown, which led to the shutting down of all education campuses.
In 2018, New Zealand’s TEPs saw an enrolment of some 61,000 students. The number was supposed to go up in 2020.
The conditions were favorable, and the attitude, optimistic. However, because of the pandemic, the number of international students dropped by at least 16000.
One question that presents itself at this point is- why are international students important for universities?
Let us look at this chart consisting of 2018 data
Some TEPs have faced more shortfall in international students than others. In 2018, the international students made up 21% of the enrolments at PTEs, 18% at universities, and 13% of at ITPs.
According to the chart above, in 2018, fees and charges from international students made up over 20% of total income for Auckland University of Technology (AUT).
Below is the chart showing the impact international students have on ITPs
If the percentage of university experiencing the shortfall remains 10% , New Zealand would be able to sail through, but if it reaches 20, things would soon start going downhill.
The digital way?
TEPs are working hard to move their courses online. Massey University is taking 90% of its classes online. However, this particular university was already taking online classes even before the pandemic hit the world.
It is now being expected of other TEPs to increase their online offering substantially. The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand has offered to make available at zero cost the use of iQualify, an online learning platform, to TEPs for both domestic and international learners.
However online learning is not a sustainable option. Some courses can be taken on an online platform, but for many others including music, fine arts, some science courses, lab work, it becomes important for universities to take physical classes. Online learning can also get boring and redundant after a point.
The way ahead?
An International Education Strategy for New Zealand was released in August, which according to Chris Hipkins ‘ sets out a new path for the future of New Zealand’s international education sector’.
Its three goals include ‘delivering an excellent education and student experience’, ‘achieving sustainable growth’ and ‘developing global citizens’.
He adds “The focus has shifted away from volume and growing the number of students in New Zealand, toward offering an exemplary student experience and building a sector that provides benefits for all New Zealanders.
For example, international education gives the next generation the opportunity to learn alongside people from all over the world, which encourages our young people to look outward and helps them develop global skills valuable for tomorrow’s workforce.”
However, a lot depends on New Zealand’s efforts to control the pandemic, and it has done some pretty good work on that front.
Other popular destination countries such as the UK, Canada, and the US have implemented similar restrictions to New Zealand.
The world on a whole is struggling with the crisis, and it is not going away anytime soon. But looking at New Zealand’s performance, it can be hoped that the international education market crisis could be resolved soon.
(The author is a sales and marketing consultant based in Australia-New Zealand)