By John Gerritsen of RNZ
The Government's decision to let vaccinated foreign students back into the country from April 30 has disappointed and frustrated some in the international education sector.
They say April 30 is two-to-three months after schools and universities start teaching for the year, and five months later than close competitor Australia is reopening to foreign students.
They warn that New Zealand will lose its competitive advantage and what was once a $5-billion-a-year industry will take years to recover.
English New Zealand chair Darren Conway said April 30, 2022 was too late.
"The problem is that we're so much behind everybody else and New Zealand will just, I think, permanently lose market share to the rest of the world because of how slow we have been to act. Australia is welcoming international students for example from next week, from the first of December. We will be five months behind them. Why?"
Conway said English language schools were holding on by their fingernails.
He said about six or seven of English New Zealand's 20 member schools were now in "hibernation" and more were likely to join them if they could not get new students before May next year.
Conway said the schools would bounce back because there was pent-up demand for English language courses and English New Zealand would be lobbying for an earlier opening date for foreign students.
"Maybe we can hope that they will see the pace of change elsewhere in the world is much faster than it's going here but they've been unusually firm. I suppose one thing we can say here is at least they've given us a date, but that's pretty cold comfort when they're so far away. It's very, very disappointing."
Universities were the biggest enrollers of foreign students and Universities New Zealand chief executive Chris Whelan said he agreed the border reopening date put New Zealand at a disadvantage.
"We're now going to be the last of the traditional international education countries that will be still either closed to international students or requiring students to come through managed isolation. It's great to have the date at the end of April for reopening but it's still going to put us at least six months behind every other country."
Whelan said universities were likely to enrol new students for the first semester next year, using online teaching to work with students until they could arrive in person.
"On average it takes about five to six months from making an offer to a student for that student to work through all the things that they have to work through to get here including flights, visa processing and just basically sorting out their finances. So we really want to make offers now if we can so that students can start arriving as soon as possible in the first semester of next year," he said.
Schools International Education Business Association chief executive John van der Zwan said he was not expecting a flood of enrolments as a result of the Government's announcement.
"The recovery for the school sector is going to be gradual. I think what it does do is signal the beginning for some point during next year, which is great, but it doesn't change our expectations in terms of any reasonable flow of students probably until '23 and beyond."
Van der Zwan said the Government wanted new arrivals next year to self-isolate and that could be tricky for foreign school students staying with local families.
He said schools would have just 1000 foreign pupils by the end of this year, down from about 14,000 pre-Covid.