Chinese students rush to return to New Zealand campuses after distance study crackdown

Thousands of Chinese University students are expected to rush to New Zealand to study in-person before semester one starts, a shift the billion-dollar sector hopes will help ease critical workforce gaps and boost local economies.

The Chinese Government on Saturday announced it would stop recognizing overseas degrees earned via distance learning, a snap reversal which gave universities a tight deadline to process students, Universities New Zealand chief executive Chris Whelan​ said.

“The deadline the Chinese government has set is tighter than we might have expected, but our universities will be working individually and collectively with students and New Zealand and Chinese government agencies to make the transition as smooth as possible,” he said.

“Their contribution to life on campus and in the wider community has been missed and it will be great to have them back.”

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Returning students will add pressure to in-demand flights from China to Auckland, as well as visa processing, but Whelan hoped it would help hospitality and other industries struggling to fill positions. Semester one starts February 27.

The edict, published online, said: “Diplomas and degree certificates awarded in the Spring semester of 2023 (Autumn semester in the Southern Hemisphere) and beyond using cross-border online learning … will not be accredited.”

It did not specifically mention New Zealand.

Chinese international students will need to study in-person

Chinese international students will need to study in-person

However, Whelan said the Chinese government was aware of the pressure the tight deadline was placing, and was “providing some flexibility”.

“Students should check if this is necessary for their particular situation,” he added.

Data compiled by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research found international education generated at least $1.25 billion a year for New Zealand and universities’ earnings from export education made up 1.2% of all New Zealand’s exports of goods and services.

About 34,000 international students were enrolled in New Zealand university programs before the pandemic.

Chris Whelan, executive director of Universities New Zealand, says China has given a tighter-than-expected deadline.


Chris Whelan, executive director of Universities New Zealand, says China has given a tighter-than-expected deadline.

Geoff Bilbrough, general manager of marketing and communications at Education New Zealand, ​the Crown entity which markets the sector, said it had been working to get students from China into the country since the border reopened.

Officials knew China’s recognition of online qualifications during the height of pandemic restrictions was a temporary policy, which would be reversed at some point, he said.

Some Chinese students returned to New Zealand last year.

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