Fears that radical polytechnic reforms will scare off international students have surfaced in a leaked email from a Government agency.
The agency in charge of marketing NZ education overseas, Education New Zealand, has emailed private training providers asking for feedback on "international chatter" about the proposal to merge all 16 existing polytechnics into a single NZ Institute of Skills and Technology (NZIST).
"We are interested in any unintended consequences, i.e. concerns from agents, negative perceptions about New Zealand," the email said.
The email, signed by a business development manager in the agency's Auckland office, Annabel Robertson, said the agency had "just got an urgent request from the Minister's office regarding China and early responses about how the Review of Vocational Education (RoVE) is being seen in international markets".
The president of the sector group Independent Tertiary Education NZ (Itenz), Craig Musson, said he received the email at 1.51pm on Tuesday, the day after the Herald reported a big drop in Chinese students this year.
The email stated: "Anything you can inform us of in this regard by 3.45pm would be much appreciated."
Musson said the deadline was "unrealistic" and he did not respond to it.
"There's no way we could have surveyed our members and got a response in that short a time," he said.
A spokesman for Education Minister Chris Hipkins said no one from Hipkins' office or any of the three Associate Education Ministers' offices asked Education NZ to seek market feedback on the reform.
"ENZ acted on its own," he said.
Education NZ general manager of stakeholders and communications John Goulter also said Hipkins "did not direct Education New Zealand to seek the views of international education providers".
"Education NZ, like all government agencies, talks regularly to our stakeholders and markets to understand their needs, issues and concerns as part of our work. This is business as usual," he said.
But the National Party's tertiary education spokesman Dr Shane Reti, who obtained the email, said the agency's statement was "not a credible response".
"It's very unlikely that someone would go out and claim a ministerial request without it being requested," he said.
He said regional polytechnics had built up personal relationships with international education agents which risked being broken by the plan to create a single national entity.
Musson said the sheer number of policy reviews in the education sector was creating uncertainty in the international market.
"I think some of the reviews are needed, but there are a lot all going on at the same time and that does create some uncertainty with agents and marketing," he said.
However the head of the polytechnic sector group the NZ Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics, Charles Finny, said he was not aware of any impact of the reform proposals on the international market.
He agreed with the statement that the Education NZ email was "business as usual".
"It would be irresponsible for the Government not to be monitoring the market," he said.
A Cabinet paper released by Hipkins last week listed "uncertainty in the international student market" as one of the risks involved in the polytechnic reform.
It said the Government's response would be that: "International education stakeholders are actively informed throughout the process, with the potential benefits of the proposed changes emphasised."
"NZIST will work with regional stakeholders to build and retain strong international recruitment into regional locations," it said.
A consultation paper explaining the proposed reform said the NZIST "should have the size, scale and expertise to significantly improve its visibility and impact in the international market and share more of the benefits of international education with our regions."