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The Government will spend $51.6 million on New Zealand's embattled overseas education sector, as schools, universities and tertiary institutes continue to reel from the loss of foreign students.

The $5 billion foreign student industry has essentially ground to a halt after the Government closed New Zealand's borders, due to Covid-19, in March.

To in an effort to help plug the gap, the Government announced a stabilising package for the industry, which includes a range of subsidies as well as new policies to support the sector's "recovery and rebuild".

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Education Minister Chris Hipkins, who announced the package with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, said that education providers should not expect to bring in students from overseas this year.

He added that much of the sector's recovery in the future comes down to when the borders will be reopened.

Hipkins promised that no universities are going to go broke in the short term, as a result of the border closure.

There have been 31,000 New Zealanders who have returned since the borders closed.

Hipkins said he's meeting with industry leaders tonight, and there are going to be some "tough decisions" for them to face in the future.

On the case of a Kiwi traveller who tested positive for Covid-19 and now in hospital in South Korea, Hipkins said the Government has asked the Korean Government to conduct another test on the person in question.

However, the Government is in the process of contact tracing on the flight that person was on, in New Zealand.

Ardern said there have been examples of false positives before.

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Hipkins said he still wants to see testing ramped up to closer to 4000 a day.

Ardern said it "was just not wise" to use testing over the weekend as the benchmark.

Illustration / Rod Emmerson
Illustration / Rod Emmerson

On re-opening the border, he said the Government is working as quickly as it can to provide clarity - but no decisions on time frames have been made yet.

He said international students, if they do come to New Zealand, will be responsible for the costs of their isolation.

The Government will be looking at bringing in low-risk cohorts of students first.

Ardern would not say if Cabinet discusses whether or not it the Government planned to charge returning Kiwis.

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Megan Woods has said a decision on this matter would be made by the end of the month.

Today was the last Cabinet meeting of this month - when asked about this, Ardern pointed out there was a number of Cabinet committees this week.

Ardern pushed back on any "conspiracy theories" when asked about some of the views of the NZ Public Party.

She said the Government was "evidence based" and warned voters not to engage with conspiracy theories, especially around Covid-19.

Hipkins said the Government is "acutely aware of the challenges" the education sector is currently facing.

"We are sensitive to the impact the unexpected loss of revenue will have had on international education providers and the investment announced today will help cushion the blow."

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Some $20 million will be spent on making sure the specialist international workforce continues to teach and providing pastoral care to international students who remain in New Zealand.

A further $10 million has been earmarked for Private Training Establishments (PTEs) including English language schools to help make up for their sharp decline in revenue.

And another $10 million has been set aside to development new "future-focused products and services," which includes designing systems to help students better work from home.

Other initiatives include:
• $6.6 million towards pastoral care and other activities for international students
• $3 million for "marketing activities" to keep New Zealand's education brand visible
• $1.5 million to deliver English language training to migrants
• $500,000 to make sure New Zealand education is being delivered offshore

In the meantime, Hipkins said New Zealand's international education sector has an opportunity to benefit from the strong international reputation gained through Covid-19.

Today's funding was one part of the Government's recovery plan for the international educations sector.

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That plan includes steps to stabilise the sector as it grapples with Covid-19, as well as strengthening its systems and accelerating the industry shake-up, which began in 2018.

"Ultimately we want an international education system that's mutually good for students, providers, and benefits New Zealand economically and socially."