The lucrative international student sector is continuing to haemorrhage as providers combat declining numbers and revenues plummet to all-time lows.
A lifeline has been thrown by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who said up to 5000 international students would be allowed to enter the country from April 13. That has been welcomed but one provider said ''it won't make much difference''.
Figures show prior to Covid the industry contributed about $5.2 billion dollars in 2019 to the national economy, however. Education NZ told NZME figures for 2020 and subsequent years had not been officially released.
Tertiary providers in the Bay were forecasting further losses this year that equated to millions of dollars.
Korean families with children studying in Tauranga schools who had not seen their loved ones for more than two years were ''anxious and psychologically very unstable''.
Minister of Education Chris Hipkins said "I'm awaiting an economic impact analysis, but I expect the reduction in revenue to be significant''.
''The government knows the last two years have been extremely difficult for businesses that rely on international students. The Government has deliberately been cautious with our decisions on the border and that has served the country well both health and economy-wise.''
A range of support had been provided to the international education sector, including the long-term strategic recovery plan, which was backed by a $51.6m investment from the Covid recovery and response fund. We have also provided border exemptions for three groups of international students.
Rotorua English Language Academy principal Chris Leckie said the school went into hibernation in August as it had no international students for two years.
Leckie said she hoped to reopen later this year at a new premises.
''We're not sure yet how many English language students will be included in the 5000, so it may not be as early as April for us, hopefully, June or July.''
The academy was established in 1993.
Mount Maunganui Language Centre director Geoff Butler estimated it had lost about $4m during the Covid pandemic.
That did not include another $2m which went into the community in the form of homestay payments.
Student numbers were down by 90 per cent last year and the majority of its staff were now working in different sectors.
''There is nowhere to pivot in the educational tourism sector when students come as much for the experience and the location.''
Butler said the arrival of students in April, ''won't make much difference for us''.
''We understand this cohort is largely made up of degree level and above students who already hold a visa, and it comes with additional application requirements.''
''So it's not as straightforward as it might seem. It may give our colleagues in the tertiary sector some encouragement though if it happens.''
Last year the Korean Times placed 130 international students into schools in Tauranga and they were usually accompanied by their mothers.
That number had dropped to 50 families with 100 students this year, the lowest since the business started in 2006.
Director Hyun Taek Yang said those students paid about $15,000 each in tuition fees and living costs of $50,000 a year.
The agency's income had decreased by 30 per cent last year and the year before.
''The families are not only anxious but psychologically very unstable due to the border restrictions and the fear of contacting Covid while living in NZ. Families are making great sacrifices for their children's education.''
Liz Signal from the Bay Learning Academy acknowledged the situation was difficult and tough but she was ''holding firm''.
The academy had lost two-thirds of its revenue but she felt fortunate to retain all her teachers, some of whom were job sharing.
''My team is fantastic and we all want to see that Bay Learning survives.''
Signal said the academy was offering courses in Te Reo and Spanish and hoped to expand into other languages including sign language.
She said it was good to get dates for the 5000 students ''but we need to see the details''.
Toi Ohomai Institute technology head of international Peter Richardson said Covid-19 and border closures had contributed to a significant decrease in international students.
Last year 877 students contributed $10m in revenue compared to 2020 when 1901 students contributed $23m.
At the moment 106 international students were enrolled to study this year, 49 were at the Mokoia Campus in Rotorua, 44 at Windermere in Tauranga and 13 were online.
A number of Toi Ohomai students would also be coming into NZ under the latest cohort of 1000 approved by the Government. The institute estimated this year's students could generate $3m to $5m in revenue.
''The financial impact for Toi Ohomai, and the sector, has been significant.''
He said it supported the phased opening of the New Zealand borders and the inclusion of the 5000 international students.
"However, as a sector, we would be expecting to be heavily involved in who those students are."
Waikato University vice-chancellor professor Neil Quigley said last year revenue from international students [onshore and offshore] was $25m. In 2020 it was $40m.
Over those timeframes, there were 12.6 international equivalent full-time students based at the Tauranga campus, and 1086.3 international EFTS based at the Hamilton campus.
In 2020 there were 11.9 international students in Tauranga and 1647.5 international students in Hamilton.
Despite substantial efforts to cut costs, the university expected an operating deficit
for the third year in a row this year, he said.
Ministry of Education policy group manager Shelley Robertson said it would work with the sector to develop an allocation plan across international education sub-sectors for the 5000 international students, to help identify students eligible for the border exemption.
This would include English Language providers.
''We expect students to enter New Zealand for study from July as part of this latest border exemption class.''
The International Student Visa category would reopen for processing from October to enable international students across the industry to enter for the beginning of 2023.