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International education is very important to the New Zealand economy, being New Zealand’s fifth largest export, and second largest services export behind tourism. Currently generating export revenues of $3 billion (2015) it sits behind fourth placed Logs and Wood as a key contributor to helping achieve the Government’s Business Growth Agenda (BGA) Export Markets goal to increase the ratio of exports to GDP to 40% by 2025. The Leadership Statement for International Education set a target to grow the nominal annual economic value of these services to $5 billion by 2025.

International education has a number of other important advantages to New Zealand. International connections have been shown to encourage diversity and acceptance of other cultures and increase the vibrancy of communities. International education helps New Zealand students to have a more internationalised education experience, and exposure to global views contributes to them being more globally relevant and competitive. It also helps attract highly skilled migrants to support New Zealand’s economic agenda. It helps forge enduring friendships and relationships, providing strong networks and access internationally. For these reasons international education is seen as an integral part of the future of the New Zealand education system and of the New Zealand economy, not an add-on.

The international education industry encompasses six sectors; universities, institutes of technology/polytechnics, private training establishments, English language providers, schools, and offshore and online education service providers. There are about 850 providers, many of whom are small. Just 50 providers generate 60% of international student numbers and value. Of these 50 providers, 80% are government owned.

Globally education is a rapidly changing field, and this creates opportunities and risks for New Zealand’s domestic and international education. Increasingly learners at all levels are demanding greater flexibility and educational choice in pedagogy, education delivery channels and assessment methods. Many of these reflect changing societal attitudes to the role of education and greater appetite for lifelong and/or self-directed learning and are increasingly being enabled through technology developments. Similarly the ‘currency’ of education is changing as education programme content becomes more readily accessible through open-source providers and the assessment and/or qualification becomes the way to monetise provision of education services.

There are new provider entrants, education structures and modes of learning. Disruptive technologies will drive further rapid change in the coming months and years. Increasingly education delivery is becoming borderless, particularly for study beyond compulsory education levels. The implications for international education are that students have greater choice of how they wish to study; they can choose an immersive overseas experience, study at an international programme in their own country, or pursue online study from their home.

Alongside these disruptive influences, the more traditional inbound international education offered by New Zealand is facing competition from other countries that are emerging as study destinations, many of them markets that previously were sources of students for New Zealand. The increased choice of offerings available to the learner represents a challenge to New Zealand’s traditional international education sector but creates significant opportunities for new delivery options.

The traditional inbound international education market in New Zealand has a number of constraints to growth. The existing education providers (across all existing sectors) have a range of reasons for involvement in international education and mixed incentives for growth. The absorptive capacity, supporting infrastructure, competitiveness and appetite for international students are likely to be a hindrance to meeting the growth goals. This means that for New Zealand to maximise the opportunity from inbound international education, it needs clarity on the students it wishes to attract and the outcomes it is seeking. Currently, other than through entry requirements there is no criteria whereby the contribution value of students who wish to study in New Zealand can be assessed.

The incentives on providers to innovate and provide new delivery modes and offerings are variable and experiences to date have been mixed in terms of their success.

The policy and regulatory environment for international education is complex with many areas of either shared or confused responsibility and/or lack of clarity and consistent policy interpretation. The totality of this context and the opportunities, risks and barriers are not clearly articulated in any cohesive manner. While Education NZ appears to understand the various components, neither it nor the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) have developed a clearly articulated evidence based case for alignment of settings to support New Zealand’s optimal outcomes from international education. The critical components of this context are:

How and which students come to New Zealand

  • Immigration settings: Regulatory controls regarding source countries, visa conditions and potential pathways to migration for international students define New Zealand’s ability to attract students to study in New Zealand
  • Qualifications recognition: The international recognition of New Zealand qualifications, the ability for New Zealand institutions operating offshore to offer New Zealand qualifications, and the recognition of overseas qualifications for access/accreditation for study in New Zealand are critical to New Zealand being able to offer international education
  • New Zealand workforce profile and requirements: Limited visibility of inter-agency profiles for projected workforce requirements and the role of skilled migrants in meeting demand restrict offerings to students
  • Expectations of education providers
  • Alignment of domestic and international education settings: The funding provision and policy settings for the delivery of domestic education to New Zealand learners (including internationalisation) create incentives and/or disincentives for providers to engage in the delivery of international education
  • Authorising environment: Policy concerns regarding the financial stability of institutions, both when operating onshore and offshore appear to result in ad hoc decision making in the authorising environment
  • Crown investment: The role and expectations of publicly owned providers in delivering on the Government’s BGA goals for international education are inconsistent and do not maximise the value of the Crown’s investment in education institutions
  • Pastoral care: Concerns regarding the quality of providers and student pastoral care are a risk for New Zealand’s education brand, and the responsibility for managing this risk sits across several organisations

New entrants/system innovations

  • Policy regarding direct investment and/or provision by non-New Zealand education providers: The ability for overseas education institutions to set up in New Zealand either in an operating capacity or through direct investment channels is unclear and can be limiting
  • Access to grants: Rules limit the access of Crown owned institutions to research and development and export support grants

Perceptions of international education/social license

  • Social license: Public and community perceptions and understanding of the role, value and benefits of international education for New Zealand’s education, society and economy are low and risk negative reaction unless well managed
  • Regional economic development: To date much of the growth in international education has occurred in Auckland, however wider regional distribution of international education delivery lessens constraints and is preferable educationally.
  • Changes in education delivery, technology, and the constraints and risks for growth in international student attraction to New Zealand mean that trans-national education (the delivery of New Zealand education services offshore) is of great importance. But so far New Zealand is behind its major competitors in this field. While a small number of New Zealand providers are active in trans-national education, the experiences to date have been mixed with providers reporting significant challenges overcoming policy, regulatory and commercial barriers both in New Zealand and offshore and also limited financial success to date.

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