Key Points:

Overseas student numbers may be up in the past three months, but this is because the export education industry has found new markets - and not because students from traditional markets are flocking back.

New Zealand's "pure" image has also been credited for an influx of international students coming here to study natural therapy.

Now, those involved say more needs to be done to ensure the industry is sustainable and students have better support.

More than 200 teachers, administrators and researchers working in the area of international education are meeting for a three-day conference in Auckland from today to discuss promoting better integration and interaction, and also how to better work with students from these new markets, such as those with Middle Eastern backgrounds.

International education boomed from a $455 million industry to $2.2 billion in 2004, but poor regulation led to the collapse of two large private training establishments - Carich and Modern Age - that year, which led to a decline of international students from 126,919 when it peaked in 2002 to 90,934 last year. The overseas students coming here now are not here to learn English, but are looking for specialty courses such as film production and natural therapy.

A reputation of being clean and green has been one of the main attractions for overseas students to come here for courses on natural therapy and holistic medicines, says Wellpark College director Phil Cottingham. The number of overseas students enrolled in his 300-student natural therapy college has increased from just a couple in 2003 to about 30 this year, he said.

Mr Cottingham said Wellpark turned over $2.5 million annually and had students from America, Britain, Germany, Japan, Italy, China and Korea, who were enrolled mainly through its website.

"We were hurt by the collapse of Modern Age and Carich, so if the Government is serious about growing the industry now, it needs to provide far better regulations and more funding support for approved schools."

"New Zealand just sells itself, really," says Lisa Bourne, a student at the college originally from the UK.

Education agent Ravi Naidu, who markets in India, said: "It's fortunate that the country's clean and green image, and people like Peter Jackson, have given the industry a new lease of life, but now care must be taken to ensure that it does not collapse a second time."

He said that after 2004, students from Korea and China never came back.

"We are seeing huge increases from markets like India and Saudi Arabia, but unlike the international students in 2002, they are not coming here to learn English or attend secondary school."

Mr Joseph Choi, whose agency recruits international students from Korea, says the focus of marketing there has also changed from language students to targeting younger ones, whose parents want them to come to an English speaking society for a full immersion programme. He said that last year, about 500 Korean children registered for various educational programmes here.