Looking forward to the future of international education in New Zealand

New Zealand city skyline

Looking forward to the future of international education in New Zealand

In March of 2020 as an awareness of the impact of COVID-19 spread around the world, New Zealand’s Prime-Minister Jacinda Ardern took a momentous decision. New Zealand opted to pursue a COVID-19 elimination strategy – “to go hard and go early.” Borders were shut and the message was to “stay at home, save lives.” 

The results of that action have been praised across the world. As the UK passed a grim milestone of over 100,000 deaths related to COVID-19, New Zealand’s total COVID-related deaths stood at just 26. Lives were undoubtedly saved.  

Now as the vaccine programme begins to rollout around the world, there is a new question. How can New Zealand and other countries across the world begin to reopen borders and rebuild economies without risking further cases - an important element of that discussion is international education? 

This has been a hard year for international students and all who teach and support them across the world, of course, and New Zealand is no exception. It wasn’t just the challenge of moving to online study, which our colleagues managed so remarkably.

While closed borders were essential to health, many students couldn’t access their study destinations in person and now it remains unclear when that will change. But it will change, and Study Group is committed to supporting students online and finding alternate ways to help them prepare for future study in New Zealand until it does. 

Our university partners are keen for us to help them keep international education opportunities and aspiration to study in New Zealand alive. All eight of New Zealand’s universities are ranked within the QS World University Ranking top 500 and in a normal year there are 120,000 international students in the country. In January 2021 that figure had fallen to just 38,954. 

According to Education New Zealand, before the onset of COVID-19, international education was New Zealand’s fifth-largest export, contributing NZD$5 billion to the economy and supporting around 45,000 jobs. Everyone is keen to restore this as soon as it is safe to do so. The New Zealand Education Minister has spoken about, “the Government’s commitment to the international education sector, which is important in the country’s long-term economic recovery from COVID-19.” 

So, what does the current situation mean for Study Group, which has worked in New Zealand since 2001?  

Our starting point is that we are proud to offer students around the world the opportunity to study in a country ranked third in the world for its education system, and home to a diverse and inclusive society in a physically beautiful land working with The University of Auckland and The University of Waikato.  

Our challenge now is in two parts: 

First, to support our existing students in every way we can to achieve their educational aims at an extraordinary time. Where this is not possible in person, we are perfecting the art of doing so at a distance, delivering not only lectures but tutorials, mentoring, English language practice, study skills advice and welfare support through digital channels. 

We can and should take pride in how this is going. Student satisfaction rates have remained high, and our most recent Study Group graduating cohort did well despite the impact of COVID-19. Students and staff have worked hard and shown resilience and adaptability. The government is also taking care seriously with its ‘stay well, stay connected’ campaign for international students - a message we fully endorse.  

Second, we need to help potential students understand that future study in a beautiful and welcoming country like New Zealand remains a great option, and that we can help students get where they want to go in the meantime. The journey may be different to the one anyone imagined, but academic futures have not been permanently cancelled.  

Although Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has suggested the country can expect New Zealand borders to be impacted for much of this year, the country is now thinking hard about travel bubbles with Australia and the Pacific. The message is that New Zealand is planning, but the time is not yet right. We must be patient a little longer.  

If students visit the New Zealand tourist board website at the moment, they are advised to “Start imagining your next journey.” The message from New Zealand to the world is, “When the world starts to move again, you can find your dream destination here.” 

Study Group takes that message seriously. We are proud of what we have achieved over the last two decades with our wonderful colleagues in New Zealand and of the students from across the world who progressed to study, thrived on their courses, and graduated to take up fulfilling careers.

For our former students, New Zealand was a beautiful and friendly ‘home from home’. We look forward to welcoming many more talented international students to New Zealand once more in the years to come.