An official agency has floated the possibility of letting 500 overseas students into New Zealand every month from January.
Education NZ, the state agency that promotes New Zealand to international students, says there will still be 25,000 to 30,000 foreign students in the country when the first semester starts next year based on current numbers "and assuming 500 students arrive in New Zealand each month from January 2021".
A Ministry of Education post-election briefing also advised Education Minister Chris Hipkins that officials would discuss "decisions around next proposed cohort [deleted] for class exception for border restrictions" during November.
Only one "cohort" of foreign students has been approved to enter New Zealand so far since the border closed in March - 250 postgraduate students who had visas to study in NZ at doctoral or masters level when the border closed.
Numbers have been restricted by high demand from returning New Zealanders for the 4500 places available in quarantine hotels.
But that demand could be cut by 40 per cent when New Zealand opens quarantine-free entry from Australia, which was signalled "in principle" this week to take effect in the first quarter of 2021 - freeing up about 1800 quarantine places every fortnight.
Universities, schools, English language schools and other private institutes are all pressing the Government to let students take up some of those places because, unlike tourists, most would stay long enough to make it worth paying for a two-week quarantine.
Education NZ says in its post-election briefing to Hipkins, published today, that New Zealand's border closure since March "has been the longest and most restrictive in the world".
"New Zealand education providers will be at a competitive disadvantage for years to come," it says.
It says New Zealand's success in eliminating Covid-19 has created an opportunity - "but this could be lost as some of New Zealand's competitors open their borders or signal paths to re-entry and others continue to maintain an open border".
"Similar to New Zealand, Australia is looking to pilot the entry of a small cohort of international students," the agency says.
"However, the United Kingdom's border is open with students from certain countries required to self-isolate and Ireland's border is open with all students required to self-quarantine.
"In addition, Canada just reopened its border with students needing to quarantine for 14 days and providers needing to have a Covid-19 readiness plan."
It urges Hipkins to "issue a clear message to students offshore that New Zealand not only recognises the difficult position they are in, but that New Zealand is keen to welcome students to return to New Zealand when it is safe to do so".
The agency's general manager for stakeholders and communications John Goulter said the figure of 500 students coming in each month was part of a model developed in October "informed by a set of assumptions that modelled historic trends and used them to run several scenarios into 2021".
"These assumptions are not based on any planned work programme by other agencies," he said.
Universities NZ says in its post-election briefing that there are still 5200 students who are already enrolled in NZ universities but have been forced to study online from offshore.
Universities NZ chief executive Chris Whelan said they should be the next priority to be let into the country before any new students.
"About half of them just cannot progress until they get to NZ, they have to get to laboratories or workshops. We have an obligation to those students," he said.
Schools International Education Business Association director John van der Zwan said schools also wanted to give priority to returning school students who were here before Covid.
However English NZ director Kim Renner said most English language students came on shorter-term visas which had now expired, so language schools would be seeking new students - probably starting with those coming for at least 20 weeks.
Meanwhile, the NZ Qualifications Authority (NZQA) has confirmed that the L3 Harris Airline Academy based at Hamilton Airport will close on February 5 due to the loss of foreign students.
Four other schools have been placed in "hibernation" with "inactive" status under NZQA rules: Kingston Institute of Business and Technology, Australian Technical and Management College (formerly Edenz) and EC English (formerly Embassy), all in Auckland; and the Queenstown Language School.