Monday 4 May 2020

Open to minds - reopening to international students

New Zealand's today hit zero new cases of Covid-19.

With appropriate upscaling of contact tracing and rigorous quarantining of newly found cases, it's very possible to see New Zealand largely reopening, at least internally.

The rest of the world remains a problem.

And, sadly, a bit of an opportunity.

New Zealand could wind up being the only place in the world where you can undertake normal university study with lectures and student life.

That presents an enormous opportunity to expand international education. Incoming students would need testing and quarantine, and the system for doing that would have to be rigourous - no stupidity like jumping onto regional flights with other passengers from an inbound international flight. Doing it properly matters.

Reopening to foreign students doesn't just let the universities avoid cutbacks and bailouts, it also helps reboot tourism. We are not going to get substantial amounts of tourism if those coming in have to undergo a fortnight's quarantine. But we could see international students touring the country during their semester breaks rather than going home and having to quarantine again on the way back.

I wrote a short policy note on it last week.

Susan Edmunds covered it in the Fairfax papers:
Chris Whelan, chief executive of Universities New Zealand, said foreign students provided a level of funding that helped make it possible for young New Zealanders to attend universities at discounted rates.

“They also bring broader perspectives, a taste of different cultures and a wider world view to our campuses. International education has massive benefits for everyone.

“As well as reducing the cost of running universities for taxpayers, international students also bring nearly $700m a year of additional spending in sectors such as accommodation, food, entertainment and travel. When international students graduate, most continue to have a relationship with New Zealand personally and promoting it to others for tourism, further education, trade, research collaborations, and in diplomacy,” he said.

“Their presence here is also a key reason why every New Zealand university is world-ranked and can provide every domestic student with a world-class education.

“Welcoming international students back to New Zealand—when the time is right and all risks can be properly managed—would be an opportunity for New Zealand to grow our share of the international student marketplace.”
John Gerritsen also covered it at RNZ:
The chief economist from the New Zealand Initiative, Eric Crampton, said New Zealand's success in containing the Covid-19 outbreak gave it a strong competitive advantage other countries.

"A lot of the rest of the world is looking terrible for students. The universities are providing nothing like the kind of experience they've normally been able to provide, their lectures are shut down ... the night life is going to be shut down, the whole student experience is going to be severely diminished," he said.

"New Zealand will be looking remarkably attractive in that kind of a world. Students who previously might have looked to some of the more prestigious universities in America or in the United Kingdom as places to study will be able to look to New Zealand instead. It's a real proposition."

Crampton said northern hemisphere universities generally enrolled students in August, so New Zealand universities needed to set up a quarantine system so it could take new students in the middle of the year.

"We have to be able to open for the July semester start," he said.

Crampton said it appeared that New Zealand would be able to contain any fresh outbreaks of the disease better than most other countries, and that would be encouraging for many prospective students and their families.

He said there was also the opportunity to attract top staff because many foreign universities had introduced hiring freezes which would leave new PhD graduates with nowhere to go.

"If we prove sufficiently attractive to foreign students that we could start looking to expand our capabilities here, we would have access to a pool of talent that we would probably otherwise not be able to get to come to New Zealand.

"So we've got a real opportunity here but it all requires that the government be ready to start really rapidly processing international student visas and making sure those quarantine facilities are ready."
My column in this morning's Fairfax papers made the case as well.
And that presents some opportunities that should not be missed.

Most obviously, New Zealand should be able to join with others who have largely beaten Covid to re-open borders to quarantine-free travel. Once Kiwis can travel again from Auckland to Invercargill, there seems little reason not to also be able to travel to places like Taiwan – which has been more successful than either Australia or New Zealand in keeping Covid in check. South Korea should also be on the list, along with Singapore when its recent outbreak is back under control.

Doing it right would likely require mutual monitoring of each other’s pandemic testing, monitoring, and containment regimes. That kind of quality assurance would strengthen our systems and help ensure that the larger Pacific bubble could hold. Doing it seems well worthwhile; the OECD has suggested that poor international connectivity underlies part of New Zealand’s weak productivity statistics. Reopening the borders to places no more risky than other parts of New Zealand would help in rebuilding business links and in restarting tourism.

But there is more substantial opportunity, in some areas, for growing beyond what New Zealand had before the pandemic. New Zealand’s “lifeboat” status, when North America, the UK, and much of Europe are in turmoil, could particularly benefit our tertiary education sector. 
And I talked about it a bit in my panel chat with Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon this morning as well; that one ranged rather more broadly.

Doing it would require the universities putting up quarantine facilities that pass muster with the local Medical Officer of Health - that should be very feasible. It would also require those students to be able to get here - I expect the universities would need to have a few chats with Air New Zealand about getting a few international flights up in time for it to happen.

But it really really should be done.

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