21 Jul 2020

'Difficult situation' - Foreign students may have to stay over summer holidays

11:03 am on 21 July 2020

Schools, universities and polytechnics are expecting thousands of foreign students will have to stay in New Zealand over the summer holidays because there is no quarantine plan to let them return if they leave.

Informatics workshop at university. Rear view of students sitting and listening in lecture hall doing practical tasks on their laptops.

Photo: 123RF

There are about 50,000 international students in the country and those who are part-way through their studies are not covered by the quarantine system.

Education leaders said the students would need accommodation and pastoral care as well as jobs, holiday programmes or courses to study.

International Students' Association president Sabrina Alhady said students had been raising the issue for several months.

"It is quite clear that there is some level of distress on students who wish to go home and be with their families at this point, but also don't want to risk not being able to come back into the country and continue their studies," she said.

With so many students likely to stay in the country, tertiary institutions would have to maintain their pastoral care services during the summer, Alhady said.

Some students would try to find work, which might be difficult if unemployment was high, and others would want to attend summer school.

"We are aware that some institutions may be looking at discounting their summer school papers, which we would really encourage," she said.

Universities of New Zealand chair Derek McCormack said its members were thinking about what they needed to do for their students.

"We are looking at what can we provide for them over the summer period in terms of work at the university, maybe study during that period, certainly accommodation during that period."

Schools International Education Business Association executive director John van der Zwan said it was encouraging schools to talk to their students about the possibility of staying on over summer.

"It's a really difficult situation," he said.

"These are young students, they often look forward to going home over summer and catching up with their families."

Van der Zwan said remaining in New Zealand was also an added cost for the students' families.

MacLeans College.

Macleans College is planning some special activities for its foreign students over the summer holidays Photo: RNZ

The principal of Macleans College in Auckland, Steve Hargreaves, said it was not an easy decision for families to make.

"It's really tough, think about being a teenager and not seeing your family for two years," he said.

Most of his school's foreign students had indicated they would stay so it would maintain its pastoral care systems over the summer.

It was also planning some special activities.

"We also want to put on some programmes to keep them entertained, we're thinking of using contractors that provide excursions."

Hargreaves said the school was also providing courses, as well as celebrations at New Year's Eve and Christmas.

Schools and tertiary institutions have been waiting to hear how and when they will be allowed to bring foreign students into the country again.

They told RNZ interest from prospective students had been unusually high, but they would lose enrolments for next year if decisions were not made soon.

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