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Covid-19: $5 billion foreign student industry faces dramatic drop

The $5 billion foreign student industry is facing a massive downturn with as many as half of this year's enrolments now in doubt.

Photo: luckybusiness / 123RF

Immigration New Zealand figures show that of 76,203 valid study visas at 15 March, 60,348 were in New Zealand, and 15,855 were not.

Immigration New Zealand said the figures included an unknown number of students who completed their studies last year and had visas that would expire on 31 March.

However, the numbers showed New Zealand institutions were well short of the roughly 120,000 enrolments they could expect during the course of a normal year.

Education leaders said they doubted those enrolments would happen, especially in the school sector.

Universities New Zealand director Chris Whelan said universities usually enrolled about 4000 to 4500 students in the middle of the year and they were hoping those students would still come.

"It's impossible to say at this stage," he said.

"We know that it's going to be unlikely that international travel restrictions are going to be released any time soon, but we don't want to write it off this early."

He said universities were still hoping that the 6500 Chinese students who were due to enrol at the start of the year but were still in China might be able to travel to New Zealand in time for the second half of the year.

"We haven't given up on them. We are in continual contact with them and these students are still hopeful of coming here in most cases. We've actually lost surprisingly few of those students," he said.

Auckland Secondary Principals Association president Richard Dykes said many schools enrolled foreign students in the middle of the year who then stayed for a further year or two.

He said that was looking unlikely this year.

"At this stage you'd have to be pessimistic and say that they're probably not going to come.

"There's going to be quite a big impact on schools."

Some foreign students were taking repatriation flights home but most were staying and intending to return next year.

English New Zealand chairperson Wayne Dyer said its 22 member English language schools enrolled about 17,000 students a year and were currently teaching about 3264.

Most schools had courses starting every Monday, but the flow of new students had stopped.

"You're looking at about 1400 to 1500 a month who won't be coming this month and quite likely won't be coming next month," he said.

"There'll be students waiting to come, but it's not just the pandemic. There's the corresponding financial crisis that is happening at the same time so it might well be that students who are in a less fortunate financial position than they were a month ago and that may affect some people's study plans."

Foreign students were the only source of income for language schools and without government help they would have to start laying teachers off, Dyer said.

The schools would approach the government for extra support beyond existing packages for businesses.

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