This post was meant to be a sequel to Auckland’s migration boom (part 1), but it’s worked out slightly differently, hence the different title. International education is a major factor in our immigration numbers, but there’s a bit more to it than that.
International students vs migration
Firstly, “migration” is a slightly vague concept. Is someone who wants to study or work here a migrant, if they’re only planning to stay here for 18 months? How about five years? What’s an OE, or a working holiday, and are your other intentions important besides just how long you’re planning to stay?
The standard definition New Zealand uses, like most other countries, is to call people “visitors” if they’re planning to stay less than a year, or “permanent and long-term arrivals” if they’ll be staying longer. Those are the main ‘migration’ statistics we use.
International students can be classified as either visitors or ‘migrants’, depending on their course and what they plan to do once they finish studying. As per the graph below, there have been big increases in both types of students since 2013.
If you look at the “migrants” line, which is really just students who think they’ll be here for at least a year, there were 28,000 arrivals in 2015, vs a more stable 15,000 in 2008-2013. The number of short-term student “visitors” has also grown, but to a lesser extent.
The graph above is based on people arriving with a student visa. However, it doesn’t show when they depart again (or when they change to a work visa once they finish studying, for example). The main point here is that if our tertiary institutes reach capacity, students will stop contributing to ‘net’ migration. The departures each year will balance out the arrivals, and NZ’s migration boom could appear to taper off, even if student numbers remain at high levels.
In practise, many students do want to remain in New Zealand after they finish studying, so there will still be some ‘net’ migration – student numbers could level out, but those who stay on after study would still be ‘net’ migrants. But the net figure would still drop back from where it is now.
The overall sector
No more on migration – from here on, I’ll just look at the overall international student sector. I’ve used data from a few different sources, which don’t quite align perfectly, but I think they show the overall picture pretty well.
At the nationwide level, NZ’s international education sector grew strongly in the late 90s/ early 2000s, and has had various ups and downs since. Most recently, we’ve had two years of strong growth, coming close to the early 2000s peak (source: MBIE).
Where in NZ are international students studying?
I’ll turn now to some slightly different data, which I’ve compiled from educationcounts.govt.nz.
Auckland is getting a much higher share of international students than it ever used to – and it always had a large share anyway.
The educationcounts.govt.nz graph probably doesn’t quite capture the full increase in the last few years since it only goes to calendar 2014. MBIE’s graph, below, has more recent data, for 2014/15:
Two points from all this:
- Auckland currently has more international students than it’s ever had before
- Student numbers in the rest of the country have been flat or falling depending on which graph you look at, but certainly all the growth has been in Auckland.
Looking at the source countries of international students, India and China are by far the largest. In the late 90’s, we received very few students from either country. That changed rapidly: by the early 2000’s almost half of all the international students here were from China (MBIE). When those student numbers dropped away again, it was a big factor in Auckland’s CBD apartment boom drying up. Although Chinese student numbers have been recovering again in the last few years, they’re still well below the peak.
By contrast, India wasn’t a major source of international students until quite recently, but it has rocketed up in the last couple of years. In 2012/13, 8,365 Indians were granted student visas, and in 2014/15, 19,305 were. That increase of more than 10,000 students from India is larger than the increase from every other country combined.
The number of people granted student visas to attend schools has been pretty constant over the last decade, at 15,000-18,000 a year (MBIE).
Tertiary is where the real action is, with 62,000 people granted visas in 2014/15. The numbers at universities have been quite flat, and the growth in the last two years has almost all been through Private Training Establishments (and Polytechnics to a lesser extent).
Private Training Establishments teach a range of different qualifications – management and commerce, hospitality, IT and English. These might not be glamorous, but they do provide vocational training and skills (except for English, which I guess is a good first step to other study). There have been concerns that (some) PTEs are lower quality than other education providers in NZ. All providers are monitored by NZQA, but hopefully the monitoring programme has been able to cope with the growth in the PTE sector over the last couple of years.
The good and the bad
New Zealand, and Auckland in particular, does well out of international students. Education is a major export: NZ earns money not just from the fees charged, but from the money students spend on other things. International students strengthen our overseas networks. Some may stay on and, in time, become proud Kiwis. As Education New Zealand notes:
New Zealanders also have an opportunity to learn from international students.
It’s critical that New Zealanders continue to grow their awareness of the value that international education brings the country; not only economically but also culturally.
However, there are some issues that go with this. International students are sometimes exploited – paid well below minimum wage to work in dodgy restaurants, or forced to live in substandard accommodation.
The boom-bust nature of the industry – especially for private providers – creates real risks, and a number of providers went out of business when the early 2000’s boom ended. That wasn’t good for New Zealand’s reputation, and hopefully the industry is better prepared for a downturn this time around.