The number of new international students approved to study in New Zealand has dropped nearly a quarter since 2009 despite government measures to boost the export education industry.
The total number of student visa approvals last year declined nearly 10 per cent, with 7400 fewer approvals than in 2011.
Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said last week the Government was setting an "ambitious target" to double the $2 billion export education sector by 2025.
Changes to health screening to cut costs and red tape, faster visa processing times and extending work rights to English language students were among measures introduced to attract more foreign students here.
But new students, or applicants applying to study here for the first time, have been dropping since 2009.
Nearly 46,000 first-time student visas were approved in 2009, but that fell to just under 34,700 last year.
Immigration general manager Stephen Dunstan attributed the decline to the Christchurch earthquakes, state of the global economy and the high New Zealand dollar.
"The earthquakes have meant a reduction of 36 per cent of international students in the region since 2011," Mr Dunstan said.
"It's important to note there has been a drop in international education student numbers worldwide."
He said enrolments in Australia had also fallen 8.5 per cent last year.
Changes had been made to the working holiday schemes to allow a study period of up to six months and visitor visa holders could also now undertake short-term studies.
"Student visas are not the same as actual number of enrolments because the data excludes many on visitor visas who enrol in short-term English language courses," he said.
Since January, 14 student visa holders enrolled to study at Auckland private institutions were denied entry at the airport and had their visas cancelled for failing to comply with terms of their visas.
Paul Chalmers, spokesperson for the International Education Group, said poor quality private training establishments were ruining the sector's image.
"The shonky establishments have proved far more resilient than the Government expected, and the result has been to impact negatively across the majority of great schools," he said.
Labour export education spokesman Raymond Huo described the changes made to immigration policy to grow the industry as "publicity gimmicks" and accused the Government of doing little to improve the sector's quality and reputation.
However, Kishu Lo, an 18-year-old first-time student from Hong Kong, said she chose New Zealand because it was "safe and peaceful".
"Overall, I think New Zealand is still the best place for a student to study because it is quiet and not too much distraction," said Miss Lo, who starts her English language course at Taylors College on Monday.
"America may be a more famous country, but I am worried about all the guns and shooting at schools there."By Lincoln Tan Email Lincoln