"Hit and run" private training establishments (PTEs) are threatening to ruin the success of New Zealand's export education industry, says a Labour MP.
Raymond Huo, Labour's Chinese community affairs spokesman, says bad experiences at language schools are making many international students look elsewhere to continue their education.
As a result, New Zealand is gaining a reputation overseas for providing "ghetto education", he says.
Mr Huo will be introducing a member's bill which would require PTEs to belong to an organisation with high professional and ethical standards.
He says because of its economic importance, he will write to the Prime Minister to adopt it under the Education (export education by private training establishments) Amendment Bill rather than put it in the ballot box.
"There are no unifying and effective guidelines in respect of how education providers profile themselves, especially in the international market. Nor are there any requirements to ensure all courses for international students are quality assured," Mr Huo will write.
"This is creating a massive credibility issue for the New Zealand export education sector with the term 'ghetto education' being used in China and other Asian countries to describe the state of educational facilities here."
Mr Huo said law changes were needed to ensure New Zealand could compete with Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, which were now perceived as being able to provide higher quality education.
"Education providers here use big names and national titles for their schools to attract Asian students, but often when they arrive, they find that their school is operating in substandard facilities," he said.
Mr Huo said a bad first impression meant many of the students looked elsewhere to continue their education, and local universities and tertiary institutions suffered because they did not benefit from a "flow-on effect".
Last year, 52 per cent or 38,459 of the 73,432 students approved to study in New Zealand were first-time students.
Student numbers from traditional source countries such as China, South Korea and Japan were all down. China numbers were down to 14,998 from its peak of 41,510 in 2003.
The Department of Labour says the sector contributes more than $2.3 billion annually and is one of the top five export industries supporting 32,000 jobs.
The Cabinet has already approved changes to be included in the Education Amendment Bill (No 4) to ensure more accountability and higher standards.
Changes include giving the New Zealand Qualification Authority more powers to monitor, investigate and enforce compliance of PTEs, raising registration threshold and keeping more money when students withdraw.