The experiences of international students in New Zealand: Report on the results of the national survey 2007

Publication Details

The research builds on the previous survey of international students conducted in 2003 and provides the opportunity to understand international students’ experience of life in New Zealand.

Author(s): Researched for the Ministry of Education by Deloitte

Date Published: May 2008

Executive Summary


International students are a vibrant part of our education sector providing immense benefit not only to our economy but also to New Zealand education providers, educators and domestic students. The exposure we get from their overseas thinking helps raise New Zealand education standards, and the people-to-people connections established are important for young people as they increasingly operate in a global marketplace.

The current research was conducted by Deloitte on behalf of the Ministry of Education (the Ministry) in partnership with the Department of Labour (the Department), in order to monitor the health of the education and pastoral support provided to international students in New Zealand.  The Ministry and the Department were particularly interested in examining the changes since the 2003 survey in the following areas:

  • The general characteristics of international students;
  • The self-reported academic performance or success of international students;
  • The satisfaction of international students with educational, pastoral and support services, living conditions and social services;
  • Students’ experiences of working in New Zealand; and
  • The future plans of international students, including their work plans.


The survey instrument adopted in 2007 was largely consistent with the survey administered in 2003. An Advisory Group in consultation with the Ministry and the Department made a small number of changes to the 2007 survey, including new labour related questions. These changes strengthened the robustness and integrity of the National Survey and did not significantly detract from the research team’s ability to make comparisons between 2007 and 2003.

The survey comprised eight sections, examining the following areas:

  • The factors influencing choice of New Zealand as a study destination;
  • Students’ living arrangements, including homestays;
  • Students’ educational and work-related experiences and self-reported academic progress;
  • The availability of and satisfaction with institutional services and facilities;
  • The availability of and satisfaction with sources of social support;
  • Social relationships of international students;
  • Life satisfaction; and
  • Students’ future plans.

The survey instrument was available online and in hard copy in English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. The online administration of the survey was used for the first time in 2007 and was the subject of a pilot to determine whether or not it was a suitable mechanism to administer the National Survey. It worked very effectively - and it is strongly recommended that this form of administration is adopted in any future conduct of the National Survey. The target sample was 3,000 international students representative of those enrolled in secondary schools, tertiary institutions (universities and ITPs), private training establishments and English language schools in New Zealand. Overall, 8,944 students were contacted to participate in the research, resulting in a final sample of 2,677 international students. The general characteristics of the sample are outlined below.

General Characteristics of International Students Sample

Overall, a well balanced and robust sample of international students completed the National Survey in 2007. The sample’s distribution across educational sectors was strongly correlated to enrolment patterns of international students in New Zealand. The sample included 1,136 university students (42%), 415 ITP students (16%), 659 PTE / ELS (25%) and 467 (17%) secondary school students. Of these, 1,365 were males (51%) and 1,306 females (49%). The mean age of respondents was 22.9 years in 2007. The majority of students resided in the North Island (75%) and had been in New Zealand for more than a year (53%).

Students from China (42%) were the largest national group of respondents, followed by students from Korea (11%) and Japan (7%). The remaining students came from a range of different countries. In total over 80 different nationalities were represented. The overwhelming majority (91%) of the international students surveyed were Foreign Fee Paying (FFP) students.

Thirty five percent of international students surveyed had family members in New Zealand. Only 23% of the students surveyed had been in New Zealand for 12 months or less. 
Ninety four percent of international students surveyed had taken the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test with the median score for students being 6.0. Students were asked to make a self assessment of their English Language ability. The majority of students (52%) reported that their English reading abilities were average, 50% assessed their writing skills as average. Listening and speaking abilities were ‘average’ to ‘good’.

Various financial sources were relied upon to support students’ education in New Zealand. However, most students (72%) were supported by their parents. Twenty three percent of students found payment for their education in New Zealand very difficult or extremely difficult.

Key Conclusions

The 2007 results of the National Survey indicate that for the most part international students have a largely positive experience of their education in New Zealand.  Overall, academic programmes and institutional facilities received complimentary evaluations.  Across all education sectors, students reported few academic difficulties and described their academic progress as average to good. Students were reasonably satisfied with their accommodation arrangements and in those cases where it applied, homestay accommodation was deemed to be very satisfactory.

The research results in 2007 reinforced that social support was widely available to international students, but that sources of support used differed depending on what type of support was required.  The 2007 results suggest that the majority of international students in New Zealand are relatively well integrated into New Zealand life, have thus adapted well and are generally satisfied with their experiences here. However, the research does suggest that more can be done to improve the level of contact between international and domestic students, with a large proportion of international students wanting more New Zealand friends and contact with New Zealanders in general. 

Sensitivity to cultural differences was apparent in the classroom, and discrimination occurred only on an infrequent basis.  However, it was concerning to report that only a quarter of the international students reported that they had never experienced discrimination from New Zealand students. It was more encouraging to see that greater proportions of students had never experienced discrimination from teachers, administrative or support staff at their institutions or from other international students.
Just over a third of the students surveyed indicated that they were currently in part time employment. The sector with the greatest number of students working part time was the tertiary sector. The main reasons students gave for opting to work part-time, were to meet living and tuition costs but also to gain work experience either directly relating to their area of study or general work experience.

The 2007 research paints a similar picture of the experiences of Chinese students in the 2003 survey.  Once again Chinese students tended to be the least satisfied with aspects of their accommodation, homestay arrangements, and social support.  They had the lowest levels of life satisfaction amongst country of origin groups – North America, Other Asia, Middle East and Pacific Islands and were least satisfied with aspects of their academic progress. It was not surprising therefore that Chinese students were less likely to recommend New Zealand as a place of study and were also less likely to want more New Zealand friends and / or try their best to make New Zealand friends.  However by contrast Chinese students were the most likely to want to stay in New Zealand and find employment - 56% of Chinese students stated that their immediate intention was to find a job in New Zealand and 76% outlined that they intended to apply for permanent residence.

However, other country of origin groups portrayed the New Zealand education experience much more favourably. ESANA and Middle Eastern students were more likely to recommend New Zealand, in particular German and North America students viewed New Zealand very positively.  These country of origin groups reported more cultural inclusiveness than Chinese or Other Asian countries and ESANA students reported having minimal academic difficulties. ESANA students were highly satisfied with their life in New Zealand.

Similar to 2003, students in Auckland were less likely to see New Zealand as good value for money than those from other regions. The region with the highest proportion of students agreeing that New Zealand was good value for money, was the rest of the South Island – this included all South Island centres excluding Christchurch. Furthermore, the 2007 survey found that students residing in Auckland, Wellington and the rest of the North Island were less satisfied with social support than those in Christchurch and the rest of the South Island.

The research found that students who had been living in New Zealand for longer (and therefore potentially better assimilated into New Zealand society and culture), were more likely to perceive New Zealand education as good value for money and were also more likely to recommend New Zealand as a place to study. Furthermore, students who perceived New Zealand education as good value for money are students who did not have a high level of financial difficulty in paying for their education in New Zealand.

Those students who selected New Zealand as their first choice as a place of study were also more likely to recommend New Zealand as a place to study. The students who selected New Zealand as their first choice rated the quality of the services and facilities at their institutions higher than students who did not. Overall these students were more satisfied with the progress they were making in their studies and more satisfied with their life in New Zealand.

The New Zealand International Education industry, through the Education New Zealand Trust, has identified a number of “depth markets” as part of a strategic approach to promotions.   In 2007 these markets were South Korea, Vietnam, China and India, and to a lesser extent Thailand, Brazil, North America, Malaysia, and Germany.   The Ministry was also interested in data relating to the responses of students from the Middle East.  However, analysis of the depth market data presented in the 2007 survey failed to provide large enough samples of the different depth markets to allow reliable and robust statistical analysis.  It is important to note that the depth markets of Vietnam, Brazil, North America and the Middle East had fewer than 60 respondents. In fact, Brazil and Middle East had fewer than 30 respondents in their respective sub-groups. Other South American nationalities (i.e. Chile, Colombia, and Argentina) were grouped with Brazil to provide a meaningful aggregation and sufficient number for analysis (n = 41).  However Middle East respondents could not be robustly analysed in isolation.

Life satisfaction in New Zealand was also strongly correlated to students’ self assessment of their progress in their studies, the number of New Zealand friends they had, and the level of the support they received. That is, students who had a higher self assessment of progress with their studies, more New Zealand friends and greater support were more satisfied with their life in New Zealand.


Download Individual Chapters
File Type & Size
   Executive Summary[PDF 2.12MB]
   Introduction & Background[PDF 941KB]
   Research Methodology[PDF 1.33MB]
   Respondent Profile[PDF 1.51MB]
   Research Findings[PDF 6.77MB]
   Conclusions & Recommendations[PDF 1.35MB]
   References[PDF 4.86MB]

Toolkit to conduct your own survey

This spreadsheet is designed to assist institutions wishing to conduct a survey of their own and make comparisons with the national averages.

To support you with conducting your own survey, translations of the questionnaire are available in Chinese, Japanese, Korean and English.

Toolkit to Conduct Your Own SurveyFile Type & Size
Image of MS Word icon.  Chinese Survey[MS Word 882KB]
Image of MS Word icon.  English Survey[MS Word 933KB]
Image of MS Word icon.  Japanese Survey[MS Word 877KB]
Image of MS Word icon.  Korean Survey[MS Word 1.02MB]
Image of MS Excel icon.  National Survey 2007 Means and Instructions[MS Excel 215KB]


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