International students are more important to New Zealand than ever before. With the tail of the pandemic continuing to cause staff shortages, its hoped that their return could be the answer.
Before the pandemic, 8.6% of the country’s tertiary international students lived in Wellington. Students were drawn to the capital for its arts, culture, and eateries, and as a hub from which to explore New Zealand. This supported the tourism industry year-round. The international education sector brought more than $5 billion into the economy annually.
As of April this year Immigration New Zealand’s figures showed only 11,800 foreign students remained in the country, half of whose visas were due to expire by the end of 2022. By comparison in 2020, enrolled students totalled 52,000.
Founder of Rebel Business School Aotearoa Tony Henderson-Newport is enthusiastic about his work with international students. The school hired students from China, India, Russia and Saudi Arabia to collect business data from course attendees for a longitudinal study. He explains that this research “reinforced the value of the Rebel Business courses to the local economic development agencies, central government, and city and regional councils.” In turn, the study of valuable insights informed by international student research allowed the school to prove their organizational impact, allowing them to provide further courses and guidance to new businesses.
Tony admired the international students’ “great work ethic” and how “highly adaptable” they were throughout. Besides their work skills, they also brought outside perspectives and insights. “They bring a new lens,” says Tony. “I really liked that the international students were so open to pitching in and getting the job done.”
Projects like this one at Rebel Business School help international students advance their cross-cultural and language skills, and establish professional relationships that become stepping stones to a future career.
Not-for-profit organisation Summer of Tech connects students and recent graduates with employment in the digital and technology industry – a sector with long-standing skills shortages. “Right now these shortages are acute,” says Summer of Tech co-CEO Ruth McDavitt. “A variety of support is needed, including career pathways for locals, education, and skilled work visa pathways for internationals.”
Each year 10–15% of Summer of Tech’s candidates are international students, whom the organisation continues to support for two years after they complete their studies. Like Rebel Business School, Summer of Tech say the international students add great value to companies. Their “diverse life and cultural experience brings fresh perspective to New Zealand IT companies,” explains Ruth. “We regularly receive feedback that international students are highly motivated.” To relocate across the globe requires a huge commitment and this is reflected in the students’ work ethic. “They’ve chosen to study and start their careers in Aotearoa and have invested a lot for this opportunity,” says Ruth.
The two organisations hope that the number of international students will rise again, boosting the economy and bringing new talent to the country’s workforce.