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The Dominion Post - 2021-11-26

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Students’ return date could cost billions

News

Ellen O’Dwyer

Waiting until April to allow international students to return will put New Zealand at a big global ‘‘disadvantage’’ that could cost as much as $20 billion, says Universities New Zealand chief executive Chris Whelan. The Government announced on Tuesday that the border will reopen to all vaccinated international travellers, including international students, on April 30. The reopening will occur in a ‘‘staged way’’, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said. Details about this process have not been released. Whelan said the country was taking ‘‘a lot longer than the rest of the world’’ to reopen to international students. The Australian Government will allow vaccinated international students back into the country from December 1, and universities in Europe and America have started doing so too. ‘‘Inevitably this puts us at a big disadvantage,’’ Whelan said. ‘‘We’ve got a lot of young people who are not going to put their lives on hold just to come to New Zealand, if they can get to Australia six months earlier and start their three or four-year degree programme.’’ International students – including school students and tertiary students – contributed about $5 billion to the economy each year, he said. Falling behind the rest of the world in a competitive market could delay the sector’s recovery for up to 10 years – especially if the date was delayed further, he said. ‘‘We are talking about a hit in the order of $10 to $20 billion of economic activity that we didn’t foresee.’’ Whelan said every international student comes for an average of 31⁄2 years, paying for fees, accommodation, entertainment and travel. And there was still ‘‘a great deal of uncertainty’’ about whether students would actually be allowed back in from April 30, or whether essential worker visas or tourist visas, would come first. ‘‘There’s been a lot of excitement yesterday from international students and from universities, around potentially restarting international education, but in the cold light of day, we’ve suddenly realised that we don’t quite know what has been announced,’’ he said. It takes five to six months for international students to sort visas, finances and living situations before they could come to the country. ‘‘We need to be clear to students about the date students can definitely come, and we need to start telling them now.’’ In 2019, before the pandemic struck, 22,216 fulltime international students had enrolled in universities in New Zealand – that dropped to 19,730 last year, and has fallen even further this year. Whelan said about 14,000 international students remained in New Zealand universities in 2021, which was better than many anticipated. The Government announced a border exemption for 1000 tertiary students in October.

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