International students return to Christchurch

Nearly 200 international students arrived in Christchurch yesterday, signalling a possible end to the downturn because of the 2011 quake.

The 191-strong group from Teikyo University Junior and Senior High School in Tokyo, are here for a three week English language programme at the Christchurch College of English (CCEL).

The Japanese school had been studying in Christchurch for 25 years before the quake. But like many other overseas schools, the school until now had not returned.

Eighty-one international students and staff from King's Education language school were killed in the CTV building in the February 22 earthquake in 2011.

Following the earthquake, the region saw a drop in international students with Canterbury's international student numbers falling by 37 per cent from 2010 to 2011 and a further 32 per cent from 2011 to 2012.

Some schools had continued to bring students to Christchurch following the earthquake, but a large number had not, CCEL principal Glenys Bagnall said.

"Prior to the earthquake we had a large group of programmes, but we had between 25 and 30 groups that came and most of them stopped coming in 2011.

"This is the first time that a group has stopped coming and has decided to come back,'' she said.

"I think it's a really good vote of confidence for Christchurch and the school. I know they are really interested in seeing the changes to Christchurch and how it's developing, they take a keen interest and it's great they feel now is the time they can come back.''

Teikyo University Junior and Senior High School principal Yojiro Takeyama said the school, which had been coming to Christchurch for 25 years, moved the yearly visit to Australia because students were anxious about Christchurch.

"Last year I visited, we decided there is no problem with having the programme back in Christchurch.''

Mr Takeyama said the students and staff were excited to be back in Christchurch, and planned a memorial service at Avonhead Park Cemetery's interment site for the 2011 earthquake victims this afternoon.

"We are going to play a Japanese song for the people who died in the 2011 earthquake,'' he said.

Chief executive of the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said the students were a welcome "sign of healing'' from Christchurch's international standpoint.

"It's great to see that things are getting back on track. It's a general sign that the economy is going through the recovery phase and into sustained economic activity,'' he said.

"They are a very, very valuable part of our education system and our economy because they bring money to spend but they also bring friends and family to Christchurch.''

Mr Townsend said the international linkages created by an increase in students would help boost New Zealand and Christchurch on the world stage.

- By Fiona Thomas of the Christchurch Star 

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