The government has announced a deal it hopes will create a cohort of foreign students who will be ready to enter New Zealand when the borders open.
The arrangement organised by Education New Zealand and the country's eight universities would see the universities recognise pre-university courses offered by the company NCUK, which was owned by British universities and had study centres in more than 30 countries.
They would also recognise NCUK courses that provided the first year of a Bachelor's degree in business and engineering and a course that prepared students to study a Master's degree.
Minister of Education Chris Hipkins told RNZ the universities were optimistic many of the students studying with NCUK would want to come to New Zealand.
"Opening up this pathway provides a recruitment opportunity for New Zealand universities to give those international students a chance to start their studies in their own countries with a plan, with a clear plan and a clear pathway to come to New Zealand," he said.
However, Hipkins said it was likely students would not be allowed into the country in large numbers for at least a further 12 or 18 months.
"We are likely to see border restrictions continue over the next 12 to 18 months, but that doesn't necessarily mean the border restrictions look exactly the same during that time. So we are going to be looking to try and do everything that we can to create pathways for international students to come into New Zealand," he said.
"There's a lot of uncertainty we can't put a specific timetable on when we can see large numbers coming in and so we're having to do things a bit differently in the meantime."
Education New Zealand chief executive Grant McPherson said the partnership was a first for New Zealand.
"It's the biggest university sector-international education collaboration to date, and it's the first time that the government has facilitated international students beginning their New Zealand study offshore."
McPherson said the pandemic had devastated New Zealand's international education sector.
Universities New Zealand said the universities were offering more than $300,000 in annual scholarships to students who completed an NCUK qualification.
It said the initiative offered an excellent pathway for students who wanted to study in New Zealand.
Foreign students were New Zealand's fifth largest export-earner before the pandemic, spending more than $5 billion a year in foreign exchange.
They have been unable to enter the country since the borders shut to non-New Zealanders in March and many parts of the foreign student industry have struggled this year and fear worse next year.
However, the government agreed to let in up to 250 foreign postgraduate students who had begun their studies before the border closed in March.
By late November, universities had identified 195 PhD students who fit the criteria and officials were working to find masters students who might also return.