19 Aug 2022

Positive signs Indian students still find NZ an 'attractive destination'

4:34 pm on 19 August 2022

Polytechnics are reporting early signs that the critical Indian market for international students is starting to bounce back.

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There were fears changes to work and residence rights would deter many Indian students. File pic Photo: 123rf

Foreign enrolments all but ceased at the start of the pandemic, reopening fully only at the start of this month.

Now tertiary institutions and schools are trying to recruit students and turn thousands of applications into enrolments, most of them for next year.

Christchurch Educated partnership manager Stefi Porter said the city would welcome 150 new foreign school students this week and 200 tertiary students next week.

She said the region had 12,000 foreign students before the pandemic and it was not yet clear how many it might have next year.

Porter said a lot depended on how quickly schools and other organisations could restart their systems for recruiting, enrolling and supporting international students but some Christchurch Educated members were getting a lot of applications.

"It's already possibly pre-Covid levels. But it really depends on the provider and how they've been keeping active in the market, whether their target countries have shifted, whether they were able to provide programmes that still have post-study work rights which hugely affect certain markets," she said.

"The feedback we're getting from agents is that they're having a huge amount of enquiries to come back to all sorts of levels, which is from primary schools through to tertiary."

Unitec and Manukau Institute of Technology deputy chief executive, Pasifika, partnerships and support, Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga said some students were eager to get to New Zealand.

"We had one student who just received confirmation of a visa and then basically flew the next day to attend a course this year rather than waiting for first semester next year so it's those sorts of stories that we know people are keen to come here and study," he said.

Lotu-Iiga said the two Auckland polytechnics had received about 1800 applications but regarded only about 1000 of those as "live" because many students applied to several different institutions or countries.

He said they expected to enrol about 425 new fulltime foreign students next year, roughly half as many as in pre-Covid-19 times.

Concern over Indian students

India was the number one market for polytechnics in recent years and there were fears changes to work and residence rights would deter many students.

The international director for Toi Ohomai, the Bay of Plenty and Rotorua polytechnic, Peter Richardson said figures from all 16 polytechnics indicated it was still a strong source of students.

"India is still looking about 50 percent-plus of our market in terms of applications, so it hasn't changed in terms of the ratio, which we thought it would," he said.

Richardson said China was still the second biggest source of applications for polytechnics, but its share had reduced - apparently due to travel restrictions.

He said across all 16 polytechnics that comprised the national institute, Te Pūkenga, there were about 2500 fulltime foreign students and they expected to have 4500-5000 next year.

Waikato Institute of Technology international director Girish Nair visited India last week.

He said agents who recruited students were confident there was still a lot of interest in New Zealand.

"New Zealand is still a very positive destination for Indian students," he said.

Nair said changes to work and residence rights would affect enrolments, but immigration rules were still attractive for people who wanted to enrol in postgraduate courses.

"What we're seeing is a shift from those graduate enrolments into now more postgraduate programmes."

But he said there could eventually be growth in undergraduate enrolments too.

"They've always been known as a postgraduate market largely but with these international schools setting up their bases in India you're seeing the students graduating form those schools wanting to go overseas to study. So in the coming years you are going to see more students wanting to do the degree-level overseas."

Nair said it would take a couple of years to rebuild enrolments to pre-Covid levels.

'Pent-up demand'

Arun Jacob has been recruiting students from India for New Zealand institutions for 20 years.

He said there was a lot of interest from prospective students.

"There has been a lot of pent-up demand over the last two years and New Zealand has always remained a very attractive destination for Indian students. We are working 24/7 to try and keep up with the demand," he said.

Tighter immigration rules would lead to fewer enrolments by better students.

"What's happened with these policy changes is it has separated the grain from the chaff," he said.

"After 20 years in the industry I'm really glad to see this."

Jacob said Indian students appeared to be less focused on which institution to study at, and more on which course would lead to work and residence pathways.

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