International students staying away

By Genevieve Helliwell

Increasing fees, tough immigration policies and the high New Zealand dollar are forcing international students away from the Western Bay.

International students inject thousands of dollars to the Bay economy but this year fewer English language students were electing to study in New Zealand.

The numbers has some industry experts concerned.

"Our student numbers would be down around 10 to 15 per cent on last year and prior to that have remained stagnant for around five years when [numbers] should have been growing," Mount Maunganui Language centre director Geoff Butler said.

"It does have an impact financially and the current situation is very tough going."

According to Education New Zealand, international student numbers dropped in the Bay of Plenty last year by 5 per cent to 3,818.

The 2012 results went against the trend of the previous five years, when international student enrolments steadily increased in the region.

In 2012 the Bay of Plenty region was the sixth most popular New Zealand destination for international students, and the region's decline in 2012 was less than the national average. The Canterbury region recorded a 31 per cent reduction in international student enrolments from the 2011 level and this affected the national average. The rising value of the New Zealand dollar also affected New Zealand's international education industry.

Nationally, international student numbers are the lowest in 10 years.

Mr Butler believed the drop in numbers was caused by a visa policy that prevented English language students working on a student visa unless they met "extremely stringent and unrealistic conditions". He said these students were "discriminated against" and the only group of international students not allowed to work part time.

"Not allowing language students to work means our school is at a severe disadvantage when we promote ourselves overseas. They are allowed to work in our main competitor country, Australia, and the Australians aggressively promote this advantage."

The language centre's huge increase in compliance costs also deterred English language students. Mr Butler said fees to maintain registration as a language school had risen 250-300 per cent in the past five years.

International student numbers are also down at the Western Bay's largest secondary school.

Otumoetai College enrols about 85 international students each year but this year the school has 73 on its books.

"This is a big deal for us because if we have less international students we have to reduce our staffing ratio ... and when numbers decline it can affect people's employment," principal Dave Randell said.

Each international student roughly contributed $15,000 to the school. This money was used to market the school overseas and fund extra staffing. Mr Randell said every building built in the past 10 years had been subsidised by funds from international students, including the sports pavilion, arts centre, special needs block and international centre.

International student numbers were also down at the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic.

In 2011 the Polytech had 127 students, which dropped to 90 last year. This year the tertiary provider had 78 enrolled but expected this to increase after its mid-year intake.

International student numbers had remained steady at Mount Maunganui College, with about 45 international students .

Bay of Plenty English Language school did not respond to messages by the time of publication.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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