New Zealand overdue to join the post-pandemic recovery of international students

At the onset of COVID-19, New Zealand was riding a wave of new found popularity with its highly successful pandemic elimination strategy. A year-and-a-half later, the situation looks much less rosy.

The Navitas Agent Perception Survey has been tracking agent sentiments since early 2020. The fourth wave was undertaken in early October, with over 1,000 education agents from 77 countries providing their views.

Figure 1 depicts the changing responses over four waves in response to one of the key questions. It shows how in May 2020, 86% of agents agreed/strongly agreed that New Zealand’s handling of the pandemic had made it a more attractive study destination. Just 18 months later in the latest October 2021 survey, that proportion had fallen to a low 33%, along with Australia at 30%. In that time, the northern hemisphere destinations — Canada, UK and even USA — have managed to pull ahead on this measure.


Figure 1: “Over the past two months, the way this country’s government has handled coronavirus has made it a more attractive study destination.”



The reasons for New Zealand’s decline are contained in two other questions  in the survey, which evaluate the reputation of different countries on two twin dimensions of being (a) safe and stable and (b) open and welcoming. Unsurprisingly, agents do not see New Zealand, with its closed borders, as being open and welcoming with just one-in-five agents agreeing/strongly agreeing with that sentiment. Somewhat more surprisingly, a relatively low proportion of agents — just under half — see New Zealand as being safe and stable.

This relatively low rating on safe and stable is somewhat perplexing given that New Zealand has largely maintained extremely low COVID-19 case numbers relative to other destinations.  It might be, for example that the recent Covid-19 outbreaks leading to lockdowns have led to a disproportionate view overseas of the actual case numbers involved.


Figure 2: Over the past two months, the reputation of this country as safe and stable/open and welcoming for international students has improved.


As New Zealand starts to look towards a post-pandemic reopening, it will in part be reliant on the global network of education agents to help guide and support students towards the range of options available across the country. When asked “What would you recommend to a student looking to study in the following destinations if they asked your advice today?” the vast majority of agents (~80%) would advise students looking to go to the UK, Canada and USA to simply hop on a plane and get going with their plans.

Given New Zealand remains closed to international students, the majority of agents would advise students intent on studying in New Zealand to either commence studies online from their home country (38%), wait and see (30%) or consider an alternate country (24%). This is cause for concern, with a high proportion of students being advised to wait and see or to consider study elsewhere. On the flipside, the fact that 80% of agents are not suggesting a switch in destination suggests that there is pent-up demand for New Zealand options. This is a reason to be optimistic that when borders open, international students will return.

The Navitas Agent Perception Survey has shown that with the right policies in place, destination countries can achieve a substantial turnaround in reputation. The United States in particular, has been able to achieve improvements across all domains, with a marked jump in the October 2021 survey. As other research by ENZ has shown, brand New Zealand continues to thrive globally. It is therefore well-placed orchestrate a rapid rebound with clear and concrete policies that give students, parents and agents sufficient clarity and certainty upon which they can make these critical life-changing decisions.


Figure 3: What would you recommend to a student looking to study in the following destinations if they asked your advice today?


About The Author

Jon Chew is the Global Head of Insights and Analytics at Navitas, and is one of Australia's foremost experts in international education market trends. The key theme throughout Jon's work has been the interrogation and interpretation of diverse quantitative and qualitative data to uncover the underlying narrative and meaning. His ultimate goal is to influence critical decisions through clear, rigorous and actionable insights. Jon's approach is characterised by deep technical expertise, storytelling, and a genuinely collaborative approach. Jon is passionate about education and is himself a product of global mobility having grown up in Malaysia and making the transition to university many years ago via a pathway program.

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