Waikato's Regional Economic Development Agency, Te Waka, is leading a regional approach to deliver education solutions and plan for the return of overseas students post-Covid.
The initiative is a partnership with Education New Zealand, the University of Waikato, Wintec, Hamilton City Council and secondary school education providers.
The chairman of Te Waka, Hamish Bell, says: "International education contributes much richness to the Waikato community adding diversity of culture, language and experience as well as a wealth of skilled and qualified employees for our workforce.
"Beyond richness – there is a significant economic contribution that international students add to our region, both directly through institutions as well as indirectly in the community."
He says the challenges of Covid-19 mean uncertainty of the timing of future student intakes and security of the number of placements that will be available in 2021.
This has encouraged the Waikato to band together and provide a regional approach.
One initiative over summer offers a range of educational and recreational activities for international students to experience New Zealand culture, and provided a community of support over the Christmas season when many international students would normally have returned home.
Wintec CEO David Christensen says: "This initiative is a continuation of what our focus has been all year during and post-Covid – that is a focus on people, our students and making sure everyone is looked after.
"It has been a difficult year for our international students, who are away from home for a long time now, and it is important to do the right thing.
"It is a good opportunity for the region to give back something to these students, who for many years, have made a valuable contribution to our region and institutions," he says.
The regional approach will plan for the return of this important part of Waikato's community and economy as a region of excellence for world class education.
"We will be working closely with our local education providers, Hamilton City Council and other interested parties to build a sustainable recovery plan to ensure we can bring our international students back into the Waikato safely, he says.
Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alister Jones, and the international team at the University of Waikato are supportive of the initiatives.
"Our international students make a significant contribution to our community, our workforce and our campuses and we are looking forward to being part of this new International Education Strategy supporting our current students and welcoming new international students to our region in the future," says Jones.
Hamilton city councillor Ryan Hamilton says: "As chair of the council's Economic Development Committee, I am keenly aware that our support of the education sector is an enabler of our overall success.
"When Hamilton was selected as the new home of Te Pūkenga, we were proud to highlight our diversity, inclusivity and culture of innovation that is due in large part to the international students who call our city home.
"We're proud to support the efforts to ensure the wellbeing of these students while also working with Government to safely welcome new students to New Zealand."