Charter flights for international students mooted by universities

New Zealand universities are looking at chartering flights to bring over international students who are struggling to get on a plane in time to begin their new year of study.

2023 is expected to see international students return for a full year of study for the first time since the Covid pandemic. But there are still challenges to getting here as flights are more costly - if there are any available at all.

Universities New Zealand's chief executive Chris Whelan says it's looking at ways to help those who have been unable to find a way to get here.

"For example, we know there's at least a couple thousand students in China who have applied for visas to come here. Most of the flights that they would be wanting to be on are actually full," he says.

"So we are already in conversation around things like; can we charter more seats on airlines?"

Immigration New Zealand data also shows that on average visas can take a few weeks to process, in some cases well over a month. The data also highlighting how New Zealand's closed borders hit the sector hard. The number of international students given visas to study here were more than 100,000 in the year to June 2019. Since our borders re-opened to students last year, just over 25,000 have been granted.

Education New Zealand - the Government agency overseeing the sector - says before the pandemic international students were the fifth largest contributor to New Zealand's Gross Domestic Product, injecting close to $5 billion into the economy.

The agency's communications manager Geoff Bilbrough says despite the challenges that remain he's "cautiously optimistic" that students will return.

"The one's we attract, they're coming for the quality of education, but they're also coming for the New Zealand experience...the food, the culture, the outdoors, alongside their academic achievement. That's the sweet spot."

Auckland University's deputy vice-chancellor strategic engagement Dr Erik Lithander says his university's projections for 2023 are looking optimistic and could exceed those the university saw before the pandemic.

"We're looking at a quicker recovery than we were expecting," he says.

"But we're going to hold our breath until we start seeing those international students arrive in person, because a lot could happen between now and then."


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