New Zealand Lays out 5-Step Recovery Plan as Institutions Push for Solutions to Increase International Student Numbers

In February 2022, the government of New Zealand announced that it will be reopening its country’s borders for travel. This was the first such announcement ever since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Key Takeaways

  • New Zealand’s COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins: It’s “time to shift gears” in its pandemic response.
  • The country introduced five steps opening its borders, and bringing in more tourists and travellers into the country.
  • In terms of annual international student revenue, schools in New Zealand lost up to $40 million due to the pandemic.
  • A UNESCO study key finding states: “The major impact of COVID-19 on teaching and learning is the increase in online education. The hybrid teaching mode is the most popular form.

New Zealand’s COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said that it was “time to shift gears” in its response to “focus on reconnection and recovery.” Hipkins stated that one main reason for this was that, as of February 2022, 94% of New Zealand’s population had been fully vaccinated.


“By the time we start to reopen our border, we’ll be one of the most vaccinated and most boosted countries in the world,” Hipkins said.


New Zealand released details of how it plans to accept travellers from all over the world as it slowly opens its borders. It laid out “five steps” with their execution starting February and ending in October.


Step 3 commenced on April 12, when the country officially accepted international students—up to 5,000 of them—for its second semester which usually starts around mid-July. This is a pleasant number when compared to the initial target of allowing only up to 1,000 international students in March.


New Zealand Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi revealed that New Zealand was issuing “over one million visitor visas per year” before the pandemic, and that these steps were significant in moving forward to address “skills and labor shortages,” accelerating the country’s economic recovery.


If everything goes according to plan, anyone from Australia can enter New Zealand by July (Step 4) and then the rest of the world in October (Step 5).




In 2020, New Zealand immediately closed its borders in its efforts to protect its citizens from COVID-19. While it allowed a few international students into its borders within the year, it was still far from what the country was used to.


In a report based on Immigration data, it stated that New Zealand saw a 62% drop in the number of international students in 2021. New Zealand usually welcomes around 115,000 international students annually. The numbers dropped due to the pandemic. At one point, private education institutions only hosted 3,181 international students. 


In terms of annual international student revenue, schools lost up to $40 million due to the pandemic. Documents revealed that primary, intermediate and secondary schools in New Zealand made just over $179 million from international students in 2019, and $139 million in 2020. While the government response has been welcome, stakeholders still believe that the worst is yet to come in 2022. The presence of international students is one thing, but rebuilding after the impact on students’ finances, number of education agents and lost marketing opportunities is another.


Fortunately, the data points to a slow recovery. Other countries that have opened their borders, namely the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, are now getting better international student numbers. With Australia and New Zealand following suit, there is reason to be optimistic. These five countries are among the five major destinations considered by international students.


Solutions for Increasing International Student Enrollment


The University of Auckland revealed that it had enrolled a record number of students despite the pandemic. Specifically, the institution was able to accommodate 5,391 international students in 2021. This is barely a dip when compared to its 2019 count, which was 5,454.


Accounting for all students domestic and international, the institution recorded a surplus of $133 million in 2021, with even more students enrolled in that year (36,748) than before the pandemic in 2019 (34,248).


One notable initiative by the university was the push toward promoting their learning centers in countries like China and Vietnam, where students accounted for 30% of the total of international students enrolled in the institution.


This data supports one key finding in a recent survey by UNESCO which states:

“The major impact of COVID-19 on teaching and learning is the increase in online education. The hybrid teaching mode is the most popular form.”


Once again, as exhibited by the University of Auckland, the power of edtech and strategic partnerships, paired with financial discipline and sustainable campus operations, is integral to the successful rebound and recovery of New Zealand’s international education sector. (SUNEETHA QURESHI)

MSM VP Global - Suneetha Qureshi
MSM President - Global

Suneetha has 15 years of experience in the international education sector, 25 years overall for various industries. As president of MSM, she fortifies its business development outreach globally, particularly in the face of MSM’s foray into edtech-based recruitment via MSM Unify. She preserves the premium, value-adding services provided to each MSM partner institution, including dedicated teams on the ground, agent management, lead generation and inquiry management, application pre-screening, and student and parent support through pioneering pre-departure briefing sessions.

She has an impeccable track record of successfully launching the representative offices in Asia and Africa of many North American and European higher education institutions. Her key strengths include hiring, training, and developing teams as evidenced by the successful results of the dedicated in-country college and university client teams.


Suneetha also has taken the lead in developing several initiatives at MSM, including building robust standard operating procedures, the Rise ‘n Shine team engagement platform, and the organization’s data analytics and audit segments.

Data sources:


Hipkins, C. (2022, February 3) Border to reopen in stages from February 27. Beehive. Retrieved from


When New Zealand’s borders open (2022, April 20) Unite Against COVID-19. Retrieved from


New Zealand to Welcome 1,000 International Students in Mid-2022 (2021, October 27) Erudera College News. Retrieved from


New Zealand progressively reopens its borders for international students in 2022 with a new start in 2023 (2022, February 3) New Zealand Education. Retrieved from​​


New Zealand to allow first international students to return this year (2020, October 13) ICEF Monitor. Retrieved from


New Zealand Sees a 62% Drop In Number of International Students (2021, December 14) Erudera College News. Retrieved from


Burling, N. (2021, September 16) Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Schools lost $40 million in international student revenue during the Covid pandemic. New Zealand Herald. Retrieved from


Patty, A. (2021, December 14) International student numbers expected to bounce back. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from


Top 10 Places in the World to Study Abroad – 2022 (2022, January 4) Educations. Retrieved from


Gerritsen, J. (2022, April 6) University of Auckland experiences record enrolments, multi-million surplus. Radio New Zealand. Retrieved from

COVID-19: reopening and reimagining universities, survey on higher education through the UNESCO National Commissions (2021) Unesco. Retrieved from


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