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AUT University vice-chancellor Professor Derek McCormack says inquiries from students overseas looking to enrol at AUT have "close to doubled" since the pandemic started.
"All of the universities have had an increase by a huge amount in applications for next year by international students," he said.
"We are not sure why that is. It may be that during the lockdown students had nothing better to do than look around at overseas universities.
"Or it could be the New Zealand factor, because New Zealand has had a lot of interest globally."
This week New Zealand became one of just nine countries that have eliminated the coronavirus, achieving no active cases on Monday for the first time since the first local case was reported on February 28.
Overseas media praised our "team of 5 million" - and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's revelation that she "did a little dance" was widely reported.
However, the surge of interest from foreign students cannot yet be translated into actual enrolments in NZ educational institutions because the borders are still closed - a crucial factor in the country's successful elimination of the virus.
National Party deputy leader Nikki Kaye and tertiary education spokesman Dr Shane Reti warned yesterday that New Zealand would lose $2 billion unless the border is reopened in time for the universities' second semester starting next month.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins has revealed former Police Commissioner Mike Bush is leading a "whole-of-government" initiative to reopen the border gradually to priority groups, including people with work visas and foreign students.
But he warned against rushing into it for the second semester.
"It's unlikely, given the huge pressure we are under and all the logistical issues, that we will have anything in time for the second semester, but as soon as we can press the 'go' button, we will," he said.
"By the beginning of next year, I would like to have arrangements in place where we could have a more significant number of international students coming in.
"That will be reasonable. But we won't be back to normal until the borders are completely reopened."
The NZ Initiative business think-tank has been calling for the past few weeks for the borders to be reopened to students quickly to "capitalise on brand Jacinda and our Covid-free status".
Dr Julia Hennessy, of the Auckland Institute of Studies, whose overseas students have dropped from 900 to 650 since the borders closed, said the global interest in New Zealand would translate into real enrolments if the border was opened.
"I think it will translate [into enrolments] because when you look at other countries that students may have been thinking of going to, such as the US and the UK, some of those countries are still peaking," she said.
Auckland University deputy vice-chancellor Professor Jenny Dixon said applications from international students for the first semester of next year were already up 33 per cent at undergraduate level and up 20 per cent at postgraduate level.
"We noticed this before Covid so I'm not sure of the reasons," she said. "You don't really know these things 'til you get much closer."
Academy Books owner John Chisholm, who wants to bring in Chinese students on charter flights and provide managed quarantine for them on arrival, said New Zealand was better placed to take students than Australia, which has clashed with China over Covid issues.
"The students are ready to come now. We could take them on a plane tomorrow," he said.
But he said Australian authorities were more open to the initiative than NZ officials.