International students enrolled in tertiary education

What We Have Found

The number of international students in tertiary education in New Zealand was similar in 2011 and 2012.  There was an increase in international students from 2011 to 2012 when viewed as a proportion of the total student population.

Date Updated: August 2013

Indicator Description

Numbers of international students enrolled in tertiary education.

Why This Is Important

Increasing the number of overseas students is part of the government's export education initiative. The initiative, set up in 2001, aims to: increase export earning; manage risk; create other economic, educational and cultural benefits.

A key criterion for the sustainability of export education is that there is a diversity of international students in terms of country and region of origin. This aims to limit the impact of sudden changes in demand for tertiary education in New Zealand from particular countries, and for particular programmes and fields of study. A diverse mix of international students also spreads the impact and benefits across New Zealand's tertiary education sector and throughout individual tertiary education organisations.

Revenue from international students provides public tertiary providers with another source of funding.

How We Are Going

Between 2012 and a recent low point in 2008, there has been a 21% increase in the number of international tertiary students.  From 2011 to 2012, the number of students stayed relatively constant, with a very slight drop from 47,771 to 47,668. As a proportion of total formal tertiary education students, this is actually an increase of 0.2 percentage points from 2011 to 2012. The increase in proportion over recent years follows a decline from just over 10% in 2003 to 8.2% in 2007.

Figure 1: International student numbers enrolled in tertiary education (2002 to 2012)

In 2012, most levels of tertiary education below bachelors saw a decrease in international enrolments when compared to 2011, the exception being a slight increase for level 1 certificates.  Enrolments at bachelors level and above experienced an increase between 2011 and 2012, except for honours degrees/postgraduate certificate/diploma level which was unchanged.   The number of international students enrolled in Masters studies had the largest increase (15.4%), followed by Graduate certificates/diplomas (10.2%), and Doctoral degrees (6.9%).

In 2012, the majority of international students came from Asia (73%).  The proportion of international students that come from Asia decreased from 83% in 2003, but has remained relatively constant from 2007-2012 at between 71% and 73%. These figures highlight the continuing dependence of the tertiary education sector on students from Asian countries.

The next largest groups of international students in 2012 came from Europe, North America and the Middle East.  As a proportion of the total, the number of international students from Europe accounted for 7.5%, those from North America represented 5.9% and 5.5% came from Middle Eastern countries.

Central and South America was the highest growth area for New Zealand's international tertiary students, with an 8.1% increase from 2011.  The overall proportion of their group remained small though, making up only 2.4% of all international students.