Schools are delighted at news of a possible "economic lifeline" to keep their international student businesses afloat.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said today that he is looking at reopening the border for foreign students on condition that they stay in quarantine for two weeks.
'It's quite possible that we would be able to work with international education providers to manage a period of quarantine at the beginning of, say, a year's worth of study so they can come into New Zealand," he said.
He also says he is ready to talk to state and integrated schools about possible short-term compensation for international students they have lost during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many schools depend on international students to fund extra teachers and facilities.
About 400 schools belong to the Schools International Education Business Association (Sieba), and Hipkins said there are still about 11,000 foreign students in NZ schools despite the pandemic.
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Patrick Gale, principal of the country's biggest school Rangitoto College, said his school "has lost significant revenue during Covid-19".
"The decline in international student numbers due to the closure of the borders has placed pressure on our balance sheet and locally funded staffing; we would like to access the same support for our international student staff that the Government is providing other businesses during this difficult time," he said.
The Herald revealed this week that private schools claimed $11.7 million in Covid-19 wage subsidies from the Government because of lost revenue.
But state agencies, including state schools, were ineligible for the subsidies because their state funding has not been affected.
Glendowie College principal Richard Dykes said the policy was unfair because state schools have also lost revenue from foreign students.
"This will put pressure on secondary schools to cut staff, which the wage subsidy is designed to prevent," he said.
"Across the country, state schools employ several hundred staff through their international student programmes."
Hipkins said he was "sympathetic to the concerns raised".
"For schools, about 11,000, or nearly nine out of 10, of the main 2020 intake of international students were already in the country when travel restrictions started and many are still here. But we know that some of the bigger schools are more exposed than most," he said.
"It hasn't been practical to meet with a large number of principals during the pandemic but my office has had limited engagement on this issue with the appropriate secondary principals' representative body, SPANZ.
"Both the Government and the education sector are already grappling with how to respond to a very different looking international education sector and we expect to be in discussions very soon."
Sieba chairman Patrick Walsh, principal of Rotorua's John Paul College, said Hipkins's comments were "a victory for common sense".
"I am certain that we can get to a 'win-win situation' putting international students into quarantine, keeping New Zealanders safe but providing an economic lifeline to the tertiary sector and schools," he said.
"I am pleased Minister Hipkins's has taken a safety conscious but pragmatic approach."
• Level 2 rules: covid19.govt.nz.