Immigration New Zealand figures show there are just 38,954 foreign students in the country and education providers have little prospect of raising that figure this year.
Normally there are as many as 86,000 foreign students in New Zealand at any one time and as many as 120,000 will pass through the country over the course of a year.
The figures showed 13,601 of the students had study visas for universities but the director of Universities New Zealand, Chris Whelan, said the true figure was likely to be a lot lower.
"The figure will be higher than the numbers of students we're expecting to actually be studying through this year because it's going to include a number of students who are finishing up or graduating and heading home at some stage over the next month or two," he said.
Whelan said universities normally started the year with about 22,000 international students and this year they were expecting less than half that number.
"With almost none of the first-year intake, about 7000-8000 students, coming through we are going to see a massive drop in the number of second-year students this year and of course we're not seeing first-year students this year either," he said.
"Realistically it should probably be more like about may eight [thousand], nine or 10,000 students that are actually going to be continuing through this year."
Whelan said most students who were part-way through their studies had remained in New Zealand and universities were hoping those who had completed Bachelor's degrees would choose to enrol in postgraduate programmes this year.
He said the fall in numbers would cause difficult financial decisions at universities.
The figures showed 8201 foreign students with study visas for schools.
The chairperson of the Schools International Education Business Association, Patrick Walsh, said his own school was starting the year with about two-thirds of its normal foreign enrolments.
Number of foreign students in-country with valid study visas by education provider
- University 13,601
- School 8201
- Private tertiary 7136
- Polytechnic 6662
- Not recorded 3354
- Total 38,954
Number of foreign students in-country with valid study visas by nationality (top 10)
- China 11331
- Hong Kong 781
- India 8385
- Japan 992
- Malaysia 793
- Philippines 1205
- South Africa 812
- South Korea 2297
- Thailand 908
- Vietnam 1593
"At John Paul College we would normally be starting at 55. We retained 30 for this year so that's quite a substantial loss and if the borders don't open this year then it's likely we will have no international students by the end of the year and that situation is likely to be replicated up and down the country," he said.
Walsh said some schools already had no international students.
"Talking to other principals, they have no international students this year at all, particularly those that were relying on the European market," he said.
"Schools that rely on the Asian market are in a much better position. Having said that, those students are likely to return to their country of origin by the end of the year."
Walsh said without extra government funding schools would have to lay off staff.
The chairperson of English New Zealand, Darren Conway, said English language schools were now down to a fraction of their normal enrolments.
"My guess would be maybe 10 to 15 percent of normal. So we may have around 1000 students across the country studying English, but that would be the high end of it," he said.
Conway said language students did not normally study for more than 12 months and schools' enrolments were steadily running down.
He said emergency government funding would help some schools survive until June, but they needed to know as soon as possible what the government was planning to do for the remainder of the year.