Schools welcome back international students

German students enjoyed some sightseeing in Canterbury last month with former Rangiora New Life...
German students enjoyed some sightseeing in Canterbury last month with former Rangiora New Life School principal Brian Seatter. Photo: Supplied by Rangiora New Life School
North Canterbury school principals are welcoming a surge in interest from international students after numbers plummeted during Covid.

Recent media reports suggest international students are returning to New Zealand faster than expected after the Covid-19 restrictions.

International students dropped to zero in North Canterbury during Covid.

But Simon Green, an advocate for principals and boards of trustees throughout Otago and Canterbury, said demand is strong from overseas schools and students who want to come to the region.

He predicted schools could be back to pre-Covid levels next year.

Pre-Covid, the international education sector contributed around $3.9 billion to New Zealand’s economy, according to Education New Zealand, making it the fifth largest export.

Primary schools are entering the international student market, with Swannanoa and Te Matauru (Rangiora) Schools among those taking overseas students.

Mr Green said having international students provides cultural learning opportunities, as well as being a financial windfall for schools.

‘‘It allows schools to provide those extra things which can enrich the curriculum and help fund infrastructure and property.’’

Mr Green works as a leadership adviser with Evaluation Associates, supporting principals and boards.

He is also the Rangiora High School board of trustees presiding member.

Rangiora High School principal Bruce Kearney said he is pleased to see international students back at the school.

‘‘We are still down on our pre-Covid numbers, but the market has bounced back quite a bit.’’

Kaiapoi High School suspended its international programme after Covid hit, before employing a new international director around six months ago.

‘‘We wanted to take some time to build some pastoral and administrative practices before hitting the ground running this year,’’ principal Jason Reid said.

But the demand has far exceeded expectations, prompting the school to increase its staffing levels to support the international students.

Students from Japan and Brazil are studying at the school this year, while connections are being made with schools in China.

Two groups of overseas principals and teachers have also visited the school last week.

An external provider has sponsored a Chinese teacher to offer Mandarin lessons for students and the wider community, while a group of 16 Kaiapoi students will visit China on a cultural exchange.

Rangiora New Life School hosted a group of 20 German students last week led by former principal Brian Seatter.

Principal Stephen Walters said it was the fifth visit from Germany, but the first in four years due to Covid.

‘‘We’ve bounced back really well. We’ve got a few students for a full year, but mainly they’re coming for short stays.

‘‘Last year we had more than 30 international students, but never more than half a dozen at a time and we are seeing that trend continue.’’

The school was able to retain its international director during Covid, which made it easier to relaunch its international programme.

Strong relationships have been established with Japan, China and Europe, with the international director visiting Thailand this year.

Mr Walters said international exchanges are an opportunity for his students to learn about different cultures, as well as the financial benefits to the school and the wider community.

By David Hill, Local Democracy Reporter

■ LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.