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International education makes up about 2% of Dunedin’s economy and when New Zealand’s borders closed in March there were fears for the sector.
Now, nearly six months on, only a third of the normal number of international pupils and students remain in the city.
Otago Girls' High School international prefect and year 13 pupil Will Chomchoei (19), of Thailand, has had three years in Dunedin and this will be the first year she has not returned home over the summer break.
Ms Chomchoei said, even with Covid-19 border restrictions in place, some pupils at Otago Girls’ did plan on returning home over the holidays "even though they know they can’t come back".
"We normally go home once a year and we’ve missed that opportunity," she said.
"We don’t know when the border is going to reopen, when we can visit our family back home. Normally, going home is my reward after exam time."
She was among the international youth working with Study Dunedin to develop programmes for pupils and students this year over the summer break.
Otago Girls' High School principal and Study Dunedin Advisory Group chairwoman Linda Miller said pupils and students were facing "some quite big decisions about their futures".
In an already "incredibly challenging year" it was important to put pupil and student wellbeing first, Ms Miller said.
"It’s about supporting students this year - it’s about supporting institutions, who are going to take a massive hit financially as a result of students being unable to come into the country, but, most importantly, it’s about supporting those students who are here and providing options so they can stay in the city when they would normally go home," Ms Miller said.
There were about 35 international pupils at Otago Girls’ compared with a normal average of 50 and the school had been "really fortunate" to keep the numbers up.
In a normal year in Dunedin, about 5000 international pupils and students support more than 2200 jobs in the sector, which contributes just under $200 million to the city’s economy.
This year, Study Dunedin co-ordinator Margo Reid advised the Dunedin City Council’s economic development committee there were more than 1100 pupils and students in the city.
Over the next six months, Study Dunedin would focus on pupil and student wellbeing.
Plans were in place for a pilot programme to provide a centrally located space for international pupils to connect with other pupils.
And plans were in place to attract pupils and students to Dunedin.
The planned summer programme would not only retain students but could attract new students already within New Zealand to Dunedin as well, University of Otago Language Centre Foundation Year chief executive Roger McElwain said.
Up to 80 pupils from high schools had already expressed interest and organisers were expecting to broaden the reach of the programme to those pupils further afield.
Tertiary students would probably have a more flexible programme and he said it was more difficult to predict the numbers of those likely to sign up.
But the programme could help to establish a critical mass of students deciding to stay over the school break.