New Zealand

Iain Lees-Galloway: 'We do not want low quality providers here'

14:42 pm on 11 August 2018

A plan to cut the number of international students allowed to work here will hit profits in the tertiary education sector but not as much as first feared.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has wound back his crackdown on student exploitation after the industry complained it went too far.

The initial plan could have halved international student numbers and annual profits but Mr Lees-Galloway said that's now unlikely.

"Half is a very, very unlikely outcome. Going by previous experience, we think the more likely outcome is closer to the lower end of our estimation which is around a $12 million reduction in revenue and a reduction in the number of students by maybe 1200."

Mr Lees-Galloway said talking to the education sector helped him fine tune his plans to clamp down on the exploitation of international students. And he said his message to those institutions which continue to run low quality courses for profit remains clear.

"We do not want low quality providers here in New Zealand, they ruin the reputation of all the excellent providers we have here."

The confirmed changes on the whole will make it easier for those studying at degree level to stay and work in New Zealand, but will make it harder for those studying at diploma or certificate level.

Universities New Zealand is particularly pleased. Its chief executive Chris Whelan is expecting a bump in international students choosing higher quality courses.

"I think a natural result of this change will be that students who are wanting to look at employment prospects in New Zealand, will look for high-level qualifications - and that's a good thing," he said.

But National's immigration spokesperson Michael Woodhouse is calling the changes a back-down.

"I'm pleased they've made the backtrack, but it should never have been consulted on in the first place," he said.

"This just shows how ill-prepared this Government is. It's another very big promise they made on the campaign trail, that we're pleased they're not doing."

Mr Woodhouse said in particular he's pleased to see the Minister scrap a proposal to remove the rights of those studying one year courses like graduate diplomas, to work here after they've finished studying.

Trainee teachers are included in that group - and Mr Woodhouse said such a change would have been completely counterproductive.

Early Childhood New Zealand was one of the groups that lobbied for the removal of that proposal.

Deputy chief executive John Diggins said it wasn't as hard as expected to get the Minister on board.

"We all know about the teacher shortage, so it took a very strong statement of feedback in terms of the proposal. But we were very pleased to see that it was rejected."

The head of Otago Polytech - which has three campuses, including an international campus in Auckland - said seeing the Immigration Minister's final plans for the sector yesterday made his day.

Phil Kerr said his business model is somewhat reliant on international students and he had grave fears about the changes, but they've almost entirely been eased.

"There may be a little bit of an impact on Auckland, but we expect that will be compensated with a positive impact in Dunedin, and probably Central Otago," he said.

'There's more to come'

Mr Lees-Galloway told Morning Report that the foreign student policy changes were not the only ones to help achieve the initial estimated cut of 30,000 a year in immigration.

'More to come' on immigration cuts - Lees-Galloway

"We are going to introduce other changes that improve the system, a probable outcome from those is that we will see numbers fall," he said.

"We've already seen a reduction in net migration of around 6000, we think this will reduce numbers further."

He also disagreed that 1200 estimated reduction in foreign student numbers was a backdown from the 30,000 reduction goal.

"We promised that we would tighten up the work rights for international students that's exactly what we have done and it's exactly in line with what we were saying needed to happen."

Through these changes the government aimed to encourage more people into the regional parts of the country that could sustain population growth and to move them away from Auckland, he said.

"We want to take a more regionalised approach to our immigration settings, you see a bit of that in these changes around post-study work rights.

He said often foreign students were coming to studying subjects or skills that were not in demand, resulting in low-skill and low-paid jobs - an outcome that did not benefit either party.

"That's exactly why we're focussed on these post-study work rights because people were coming to new zealand under false hope frankly.

"We wanted to send a strong signal that the best way to be able to stay on in New Zealand, especially if people are looking for a pathway to residency, is for people to study at degree level or higher. But also there is a pathway to residency for people who study below degree level and that is by studying a skill that is in demand in New Zealand."