With universities bleeding money due to the lucrative international student market being shut off, National says we can and should bring them safely back to our shores

The National Party is pushing for international students to be allowed back into New Zealand despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, accusing the Government of moving too slowly to shore up a critical market.

Universities have faced a significant financial hit from being unable to bring in international students due to border closures.

National deputy leader and education spokeswoman Nikki Kaye said New Zealand risked missing out on international students for the second half of 2020, costing the economy hundreds of millions of dollars, unless the Government’s approach changed.

Kaye said international students contributed about $5 billion a year to the economy and supported around 50,000 jobs, with the majority of revenue coming not from tuition fees but spending on accommodation, tourism, food and other sectors which benefited Kiwi businesses.

“New Zealand education providers have suffered a significant financial loss. Some estimates suggest our universities could see a combined loss of up to $400 million in revenue a year if they are not able to bring in international students,” Kaye said.

National’s tertiary education spokesman Shane Reti said keeping international students out would hurt the quality of education on offer to Kiwis, with less revenue to pay for staff, facilities and research.

Two tests and self-funded quarantine

Under the party’s proposal, students who wished to come to New Zealand would undergo a health check prior to departure, as well as Covid-19 testing when both entering and exiting a 14-day quarantine period.

The cost of the health checks and testing would be paid for by the students, along with the accommodation bill during their time in quarantine. 

Education providers would be tasked with handling quarantine procedures, with their health protocols approved and audited by Ministry of Health officials through a certification process.

Any providers who failed to meet the requirements would lose their certification and right to bring in students.

“These processes are robust and more rigorous in our view than existing processes for returning New Zealanders,” Reti said.

The policy could evolve in line with technological advances in testing, while border arrangements with other countries could also assist with international students travelling here from those countries.

Official briefings released by the Government show ministers mulled a travel ban exemption for international students in late February, after travel from China was prohibited but before the country went into lockdown.

The Government ultimately decided against such a move, with health officials opposing any exception for students.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

Leave a comment