International students contribute $5 billion to the New Zealand economy and are the fifth biggest export contributor behind dairy, tourism, red meat and forestry.
Revenue is not only received by universities and polytechnics but in fact for every $1 of course fees there is actually a further $2 of revenue that flows into communities through accommodation, hospitality, travel and cost of living expenditure.
• National wants new international students back in NZ - but with new work restrictions
• Govt considers reopening country for $5b international student industry
• Schools may get lifeline to keep foreign students
• Victoria University plans to bring back international students
Prior to coronavirus New Zealand had more than 100,000 international students with the biggest single country of origin being China.
International students should be thought of as more than just revenue generators. They also promote New Zealand and during their study they develop career-long relationships and connections that link back to New Zealand for many years after they return home.
International students are associated with 50,000 jobs which in a post-coronavirus environment is critical. Fundamentally, they also subsidise the cost of tuition for New Zealand domestic students as well as contributing to the reputation of institutions like universities.
One connection between international students and reputation occurs through one of the two main university ranking systems, QS rankings, which weighs foreign students with a 5 per cent weighting and foreign academics with a further 5 per cent weighting.
International rankings are important for our own quality assessment and to attract international students.
Before the coronavirus outbreak gathered momentum in March, officials were already planning how to reduce the inevitable impact on international students. The Ministry of Health and tertiary officials collaborated and had mostly agreed on a policy whereby international students would have an exemption to cross the border and into Whangaparaoa-like quarantine facilities for 14 days.
Unfortunately the brunt of coronavirus then hit New Zealand and the decision was made to pause this initiative.
It is now time to re-examine opening the border to international students with some urgency. The urgency arises because of the implications on 50,000 jobs and the possibility that other international destinations will compete for and siphon off students that might otherwise have come to New Zealand.
Opening the border to international students requires a quarantine process that protects our borders. A good starting place is the quarantine arrangements already in place for returning New Zealanders that requires two weeks' managed quarantine in government controlled facilities with entry and exit testing for coronavirus.
The argument could be made that even more care needs to be taken as we gently explore letting international students back in, a "quarantine plus" type system that also requires exit testing at the point of departure.
This could include a health declaration card and thermal imaging to assess temperature. I would note that New Zealand may also be asked by other countries to undertake exit testing within New Zealand in the very near future.
Universities and Private Training Establishments (PTE) have told us they can provide these sorts of physical quarantine facilities. Policies would need to be developed that both certified and monitored what would effectively be private quarantine facilities.
There is some urgency to bring back international students but in a manner that is safe to them and to New Zealanders.
All international students are important but the Chinese market especially provides 40 per cent of all international students.
As we weigh up the risks and benefits we should remember that during the coronavirus outbreak in New Zealand, zero Chinese international students tested positive for coronavirus.
This is reassuring and a good starting place to move forward with opening the border to international students.
• Dr Shane Reti is the MP for Whangārei.