Despite the recession, export education is set for another boom year - thanks largely to India.

In a year when growth from traditional international student markets such as China, South Korea and Japan declined, the Indian market rose by 42 per cent.

Since they peaked in 2003, international student numbers had been decreasing because of the fall in applications from China.

But Education New Zealand, an umbrella body for education exporters, says that by diversifying the market, providers have been able to attract students from other places such as India, the Middle East and South America.

In January, the number of international students was up 3600 from the January before, and by 8100 from 2008.

Immigration New Zealand said it was doing all it could to facilitate applications and ensure the number of students from India - which it described as an "important source country" - kept increasing.

Last year the Indian Education Group, representing private training establishments whose primary market is India, accused Immigration NZ of jeopardising the $200 million market by taking up to five months to process student visas.

This, it said, made potential students look elsewhere.

The agency then introduced a priority visa-processing scheme, and is to open a second office in India. It is also sending Indian applications to its offices in Bangkok and Palmerston North - where 97 per cent of all onshore student permits are processed - to shorten approval times.

An Immigration spokeswoman said this had resulted in a 25 per cent reduction in the volume of student visas for its Indian office and improved student processing times.

The average processing time for a student permit was now 22 days.

Massey University marketing researcher Henry Chung said it was a "right and timely move" for education exporters to shift their focus from China.

"The international student flow from China will slow down as the country experiences the effects of its one-child policy," said Dr Chung.

"Unlike China, India's high birthrate since the 1970s will continue to see an increasing number of young people hungry for an overseas education and experience."

India has more than 500 million people under 25.

The number of international students from China has been falling since 2003 - when Chinese made up 50 per cent of the foreign student population - down to 30 per cent in 2007, and less than 20 per cent last year.

Indian student numbers have grown more than 300 per cent in the past four years - increasing from an average of 2200 students between 2002 and 2006 to 9072 last year.

India is now New Zealand's third-largest foreign student market, behind China and South Korea.

"Since about 2005, New Zealand has been on a long-term growth path with students coming from India," said Education NZ chief executive Robert Stevens.

He said recent reports about attacks on Indian students in Australia could also bring more Indians here.

"Competitor activity and perceptions are bound to affect New Zealand's market share," he said.

"New Zealand is seen as a safe, welcoming country by most Indian students and we enjoy a good reputation in India for the quality of our institutions."

Immigration NZ says the recent tightening of entry criteria and limiting study opportunities in Australia and Britain could also be to New Zealand's advantage.

Last year, overall international student numbers increased by 5.5 per cent and the amount of tuition fees associated with international students increased by 7.8 per cent.

Private establishments had an 11.8 per cent increase in numbers and 21.5 per cent in tuition fees, while universities had a 1.1 per cent increase in students and 10.4 per cent in fees paid.