Growth and recovery: New Zealand’s international education surges ahead

New Zealand’s international education sector navigated unprecedented challenges due to the extended COVID-19 border closures. An analysis of the research firm EY, commissioned by Education New Zealand (ENZ) revealed that the international education sector’s direct national contribution to the country’s GDP experienced a staggering decline.


However, a resilient recovery in international student enrolments, reaching 28,725 in February 2024, signals a positive turn. EY projects numbers returning to pre-pandemic levels by 2030. Couple that with strong government support and the sector’s journey unfolds with promising prospects. 

Recovery of international enrolments 

The prolonged border closure from March 2020 to July 2022 dealt a severe blow to New Zealand’s international education sector, resulting in a substantial economic decline. The analysis by EY outlined a significant drop from NZ$3.9 billion in 2019 to NZ$800 million in 2022, accompanied by job losses and widespread economic repercussions across the nation.


Despite these challenges, recent data highlights a gradual recovery in international student enrolments post-border reopening. International student enrolments showcased resilience. Enrolments steadily increased from 11,820 in May 2022 to 34,230 by August 2023 before stabilising at 28,725. in February 2024. This resurgence signifies not only a numerical rebound but also the resilience and attractiveness of New Zealand’s education system on the global stage. EY’s optimistic projection anticipates a full recovery by 2030, underlining the sector’s ability to regain pre-pandemic stability. 

Optimistic outlook and government support  

EY’s positive projection aligns with the New Zealand government’s unwavering commitment to the international education sector’s resurgence. Beyond economic considerations, the government recognises the sector’s role in job creation and global connections, plus its substantial contribution to New Zealand’s GDP. 


The steady stream of student visa applications between December 2022 (7,481) and December 2023 (7,265) suggests sustained interest among international students in choosing New Zealand. This indicates an optimistic future for the country’s international education sector. 

Broader impact on New Zealand 

China, India and Japan emerged as New Zealand’s top three source markets for international students. Their distribution across universities (38.77%), private training establishments (23.98%), polytechs (14.49%) and schools (22.56%) paints a comprehensive picture of the sector’s diversity. Short courses and visa-free status students further contribute to its dynamic nature.


International students, beyond their economic contributions, play a vital role in enriching New Zealand’s societal fabric. Insights from ENZ’s survey of 4,755 international students in 2023 and Ipsos research indicate 75% of 1,100 surveyed New Zealanders believed international students benefit the country, a significant increase from 57% in 2016. This illustrates an overwhelmingly positive openness towards fostering cultural exchange and understanding within local communities. While concerns about infrastructure, encompassing housing, transport and medical services, have been raised, the government has responded proactively, focusing on a nuanced approach to address these challenges. By investing in and upgrading essential services, the government aims to create an environment that not only accommodates the needs of international students but also ensures a seamless integration into New Zealand society. 

Student perspectives and experience 

A 2023 survey conducted by ENZ provides insights into the experiences of international students. Out of 4,755 respondents from over 70 nationalities, 84% expressed satisfaction with their New Zealand study abroad experience, and 83% affirmed their willingness to recommend it as a study destination. These positive voices serve as powerful testimonials to the enduring allure of New Zealand’s education system. 

Return of international students and future initiatives 

The trajectory of international student returns post-border reopening surpassed expectations, showcasing the sector’s resilience. Several institutions, like the University of Auckland, reported robust numbers, indicating the sector’s potential to reclaim its status as a major contributor to New Zealand’s economy.


With the increasing enrolments, New Zealand contends with fierce global competition for educational talent. Navigating this competitive landscape requires a deep understanding of market dynamics, target demographics and the distinctive offerings that set New Zealand apart. The country strategically endeavours to attract students particularly from China and India 


The National-led Government is actively working to revive the international education sector, aiming to restore it to its pre-pandemic state. This focused approach, emphasising exceptional education and unique experiences, positions New Zealand as an attractive destination, contributing significantly to the country’s growth and global reputation. 

International student stories 

Personal narratives from international students Sean Teow and Ann Cabanero, offer firsthand insights into the challenges and rewards of studying in New Zealand during the pandemic. Their narratives speak of their high satisfaction towards their study experience, so much so that they are motivated to contribute to the country’s workforce.


Their experiences, along with those of other foreign students in New Zealand, underscores the impact of international education. International students don’t just contribute to their host country’s economy, they also foster its global standing in the realm of international education.

Resiliency and success  

New Zealand’s resilient international education sector is poised for recovery. This recovery transcends economic considerations; it encompasses cultural exchange, societal enrichment and the strengthening of global connections.


Stay tuned for further industry insights and updates in New Zealand and other major study destinations by visiting our blog.

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