With the borders open to international students but China still grappling with domestic Covid-19 restrictions, smaller Asian countries are being targeted for recruitment drives

Plans to diversify New Zealand’s international education sector have been re-booted now that borders are open again.  

In 2019, international education contributed $5.23 billion to the New Zealand economy with China and India accounting for 47 percent of all international student enrolments. 

And while the pandemic blocked the in-person market for some time, plans to diversify where these students come from have been rekindled.

Education NZ’s 2022 statement of performance expectations specifically outlines that the “percentage of the sector’s value from markets outside the top two markets is increased”. 

Education NZ Asia regional director Ben Burrowes said as the sector rebuilt itself, diversification was important.  

“So obviously, we don’t want to be overly reliant on one or two particular countries and we want our Kiwi students to be learning alongside all sorts of different nationalities, different cultures, religions, etc.  

“So it just adds to the government objective of ours, to diversify that international student cohort.” 

He said Education NZ, the government agency in charge of international students, worked hard to keep the “New Zealand brand alive” over the past two years using virtual engagement tools, such as virtual guest lectures, and it had paid off. 

“I’ve been able to travel back into those countries and have seen hugely positive sentiment from students and schools about New Zealand that we remained alongside them.  

“There was no commercial value in those relationships … but it’s gone a really long way to keep the New Zealand education brand alive.” 

Burrowes said there was a lot of catching up to do, given New Zealand borders opened relatively late compared to competitor countries.

“But we’re positive in that the brand has remained and certainly feeling much more positive now with borders reopening and everyone now has a lot more clarity about when they can come to New Zealand.” 

Education NZ had already started the move toward “higher-value” students and pre-pandemic with each student contributing $44,951 – almost double that on five years earlier. 

A report prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade noted South Korean students contributed the most money per capita.  

Burrowes said it was certainly a country they were working hard to grow. 

“We’re always trying to grow the numbers of students with the right profile of students and I think South Korea certainly provides us with that, given that so many of them come to study even from primary school, through secondary school and can often transition onto their tertiary education as well. So we’re certainly wanting to grow that.” 

And it would seem the timing is spot on. 

The ministry’s report noted the lifting of domestic restrictions in South Korea in May had translated to pent-up demand and many parents were seeking advice from agencies, or doing their own research online to find out where the best places to send their children might be.  

“New Zealand’s successful response to Covid has left a good impression on Korean education stakeholders who continue to view the country as a favourable study destination. Although some interest has drifted elsewhere (e.g. to the UK and Canada) due to borders opening earlier, New Zealand remains highly competitive in Korea, particularly for primary and secondary education.” 

Education NZ plans to put its best foot forward when it comes to capturing those students. 

A delegation of 35 representatives from 25 schools in Tauranga will visit Korea this month to participate in student fairs. Agency officials will then be in the country in October to host an agent seminar as well as other networking. 

Other Asian countries are all front of mind for growth including Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Japan. 

Burrowes said the work to grow the Asian market by no means meant China was old news.  

“They all remain of equal importance.” 

Emma Hatton is a business reporter based in Wellington.

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