10 Mar 2021

Three universities' domestic enrolment outstrips foreign student loss

12:59 pm on 10 March 2021

Increased domestic enrolments have more than made up for falling foreign student numbers at three universities.

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The universities say the increase in student numbers will not offset the financial impact of losing hundreds of fee paying foreign students. Photo: Photo / 123RF

Canterbury, Victoria and Otago have reported that they are starting the year with nearly 1000 more students than last year.

However, they also warn that the net increase will not offset the financial impact of losing hundreds of foreign students because their fees are worth more than double what universities receive for each domestic student in fees and government funding.

The loss of foreign student fees has prompted the eight universities to shed about 700 permanent staff, and cut back on hundreds of casual and short-term tutoring and contract lecturing roles.

Victoria University of Wellington reported that it had 1350 domestic full-time equivalent students, an increase of 9 percent and the biggest rise in recent years.

"In contrast, our international EFTS are 470 below this time last year but approximately 150 EFTS better than forecast," it said.

The University of Canterbury said it had 1584 or 13 percent more full-time domestic students, and 668 or 44 percent fewer international students.

Its vice-chancellor Professor Cheryl de la Rey said the net increase was "unlikely to offset the loss of full-fee-paying international students".

"We are reducing costs where possible, but this will not impact on personnel costs or course delivery at this time."

The University of Otago said it had experienced a net increase of 5.4 percent, or 952 full-time enrolments, over the same time last year.

"Within this, a 1341 EFTS [equivalent full-time students] lift in domestic student enrolments has been more than sufficient to offset a decline of 389 EFTS in international full-fee enrolments," it said.

University of Otago vice-chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne said the increase in domestic enrolments was higher than expected.

"An upswing in university enrolments is quite normal at any time when the labour market and economy are under pressure, but the magnitude of the domestic increase this time is greater than we have seen in other recent periods of economic downturn such as the Global Financial Crisis," she said.

Hayne said the overall increase should partly reduce the financial pressure on the university, which had previously budgeted for a $13 million deficit for 2021.

The remaining five universities had not yet reported their enrolment figures, but RNZ understands at least two have told their staff that domestic enrolment increases have offset falling international numbers.

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