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What NZ’s Recent International Education Struggles Mean to Student Recruitment

New Zealand has always been hailed as one of the most underrated destinations in international education. Although NZ has only eight universities, these institutions are among the top schools in the world. And this is no mean feat.

In a list released annually by Top Universities–which creates its ranking based on six metrics: Academic Reputation (40%), Employer Reputation (10%), Faculty/Student Ratio (20%), Citations per faculty (20%), International Faculty Ratio (5%), and International Student Ratio (5%)–all New Zealand public universities are in the top 500 in the QS World University Rankings for 2021, which is quite remarkable. 

MSM Research - University Rankings

Source: https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings

As you can see from the table above, all eight public universities have a decent international student population. This is perhaps in large part due to their stellar reputations for quality education as well as the reputation of New Zealand as a safe destination overall.

However, of late, New Zealand has been experiencing problems in retaining its institutions’ international enrollment level.

New Zealand international education struggles in the pandemic

Despite the apparent promise of New Zealand higher education institutions, the country’s international student enrollment has dipped considerably in the past months, no thanks to the ongoing health crisis and the consequent restrictions that it necessitates.


Figures from Immigration New Zealand show that there are only 38,954 foreign students in the country as of January 2021, and education providers have expressed doubt that the figure will increase this year.


According to reports, there are as many as 86,000 foreign students in New Zealand at any given time. Around 120,000 international students pass through the country every year.


New Zealand has a reputation for being a safe place to live, and this was before the pandemic. And the country has declared that it is already COVID-free. 


Indeed, New Zealand has met the challenges of the pandemic with more success than most other countries. This is certainly borne out by surveys, as The Guardian reports. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern secured the top rank for New Zealand in Bloomberg’s market crisis management index for political stability, economic recovery, virus mitigation, and social resilience. New Zealand Finance Minister Grant Robertson attributes their favorable virus control perception to the government’s “hard and early” plan. 


The difficult consequence of the country’s highly successful pandemic-mitigation activities is that the government had to be strict in terms of border control. And this was what gave the international education scene some problems.


Education officials stated that if the borders don’t open soon, then the number of international students in the country will further drop. But with the new coronavirus variants rampaging across Europe and North America, opening borders is a little far-fetched at the moment.  As such, institutions that rely on the European student market seem to be having the most problems.


The dip in enrollment figures will always affect not only the institutions’ finances, as obviously the dip in number corresponds to a similar decrease in tuition fee revenues, but also the economy of the country itself.


It is a fact that international students contribute, one way or another, to a nation’s economy. Going through some published figures, we can see that the financial impact of international students is huge.


For instance, in 2016, the global economic impact of more than 5.1 million international students was over US$300 billion, both directly (tuition and related fees) and indirectly (taxes, jobs, disposable income). Taking these figures in and of themselves, each student contributed roughly US$58,823 to its host country that year. 

The case for New Zealand

Even before the pandemic, New Zealand failed to crack the top list of host countries for international students. The health crisis merely exacerbated the situation. According to UNESCO, New Zealand hosted 52,702 students from 107 countries in 2018, a majority of them from China (34.8%) and India (22%). In 2020, the figures showed a slight overall decline to 51,580, but with the numbers for two of the top countries dropping considerably:

As earlier stated, the 2021 figures are not as promising, since these figures are those that reflect the effects of the necessary stringent border restrictions in 2020. The good news, however, is that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared at the start of the year that New Zealand is practically COVID-free.  This may signal a new era in which New Zealand’s rebound will take place.

New Zealand and international student recruitment

New Zealand is an interesting study for international education professionals because it has many things going for it, yet it is struggling in terms of international student enrollment.


But what do all of these mean? And how does the New Zealand foreign student enrollment situation affect the world of international education?


Excluding the students who graduated in New Zealand schools and have gone home to work in their own countries, the dip in international student enrollment means that there are students out there who are now looking to pursue their studies somewhere else.


But where might these students go? Based on a recent study by the Statista Research Department, the most popular international student destinations are the United States, the UK, China, Canada, and Australia.

MSM Research - International student Destination

Source: Statista

The graph shows that, in 2019, there were over one million international students enrolled in U.S. higher education. Chances are, foreign students displaced from New Zealand will go to the US, especially now that the Biden administration has eased immigration policies somewhat. 

The UK, China, and Canada are also possible destinations, as these countries have shown excellent standards for higher education and have rich international student communities. 

One thing that also bears consideration is NZ’s limited number of higher education institutions. New Zealand has only eight universities in the whole country, although several private training establishments and non-university institutes play host to a majority of international students.

MSM Research - New Zealand Universities
Source: https://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/statistics/tertiary-participation

Now because of NZ’s limited number of higher education institutions, local students may opt to study overseas. A quick look at how many New Zealanders go to other countries to study can help us infer quite a few interesting things.

MSM Research - New Zealand International Student

In 2018, there were just around 5,000 international students from New Zealand who were enrolled in other countries. The table above shows the top five destinations of these New Zealanders, which include the United States and Australia, which share over 3,000 students between them.

These figures, therefore, show that despite the recent dip, there are more international students coming into New Zealand than those going out from the country to study abroad. 

A figurative pause

Before the pandemic, New Zealand was well set up for the international education market, and probably more so in a post-pandemic world. It has a great reputation as an inclusive society and has aggressive plans to expand its base in international education. The COVID-19 pandemic and the necessary restrictions that came with it were not friendly to the higher education scene.


However, the think tank Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), in its June 2020 Global Peace Index, includes New Zealand in its rankings of countries with the “most favorable economic pre-conditions for a post-pandemic recovery with higher levels of Positive Peace, as measured by the Positive Peace Index (PPI).”


In other words, New Zealand has what it takes to quickly recover from the health crisis that they have somehow mitigated successfully. How the rest of the world tackles the health crisis, however, plays an important role in everyone else’s recovery and opening New Zealand’s borders also depends largely on the global health situation.


But, with a relatively low cost of education, and a perceived higher quality of education and employability, New Zealand may still be able to get back on track once the global health crisis is over. 


One way to achieve this is for institutions to shore up their marketing and recruitment efforts. Some colleges and universities have difficulty in marketing and recruiting internationally because they do not have the manpower or the financial resources to stage effective initiatives. So the best way to fit international marketing and recruitment efforts into an overall recruitment strategy is to partner with a reputable and reliable global marketing and recruitment company that has a global reach.


For one thing, MSM has forged a pathway program deal with New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington in June 2020.  It is the first step in the right direction, but more can and will be done on our end. 


In the meantime, international recruitment agents would do well to tap into the larger global student community that has decided to stay away from New Zealand for the meantime. More than anything else, these international students need help and guidance in how to resume their studies effectively, conveniently, and safely. (SUNEETHA QURESHI)


#PartnerForLife #InternationalEducation #InternationalStudents #WeAreMSM #HigherEducation #MSM


Suneetha has more than 10 years of experience in the international education sector. As the Vice President of MSM Global, she leads MSM’s extensive back-of-the-house operations, including MSM’s human resources, financial management, information technology, and marketing, communications, and social media activities. 


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. 

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Data Sources:

Biden vows immigration reform to attract top talent to the US. (2021 January 21). Retrieved January 26, from https://sciencebusiness.net/news/biden-vows-immigration-reform-attract-top-talent-us


Eton College. (2020, July 18). Eton College Canada Inks Deal for Student Pathway Program With Victoria University of Wellington: Flight Attendant Training, Business Administration, Hospitality, Travel and Tourism Management. Retrieved January 15, 2021, from https://www.etoncollege.ca/eton-college-canada-inks-deal-for-student-pathway-program-with-victoria-university-of-wellington


Foreign students in country fewer than half normal number. (2021 January 21). Retrieved January 26, 2021, from https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/435102/foreign-students-in-country-fewer-than-half-normal-number


Global Flow of Tertiary-Level Students. (n.d.). Retrieved January 15, 2021, from http://uis.unesco.org/en/uis-student-flow


Institute for Economics & Peace. (2020, October). Quantifying Peace and its Benefits. Retrieved January 16, 2021, from https://www.visionofhumanity.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/COVID19-and-Peaceweb.pdf


International students generate global economic impact of US$300 billion. (2020, May 28). Retrieved January 15, 2021, from https://monitor.icef.com/2019/08/international-students-generate-global-economic-impact-of-us300-billion/


Measuring COVID-19’s impact on higher education. (2020, August 28). Retrieved January 15, 2021, from https://monitor.icef.com/2020/04/measuring-covid-19s-impact-on-higher-education/


Ministry of Education – Education Counts. (n.d.). Retrieved January 15, 2021, from https://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/statistics/tertiary-participation


Mpinganjira, M. (2009). Comparative analysis of factors influencing the decision to study abroad. African Journal of Business Management, 3(8), 358-365. doi:10.5897/AJBM09.117


New Zealand’s Covid-19 response the best in the world, say global business leaders. (2020, October 08). Retrieved January 15, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/08/new-zealands-covid-19-response-the-best-in-the-world-say-global-business-leaders


QS World University Rankings – Methodology. (2020, July 20). Retrieved January 15, 2021, from https://www.topuniversities.com/qs-world-university-rankings/methodology


Top host destination of international students worldwide in 2019, by number of students. (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2021, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/297132/top-host-destination-of-international-students-worldwide/


University Rankings. (n.d.). Retrieved January 15, 2021, from https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings


‘Very proud’: Jacinda Ardern defends New Zealand Covid response after Trump comments. (2020, August 21). Retrieved January 15, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/21/very-proud-jacinda-ardern-defends-new-zealand-covid-response-after-trump-attacks






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