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Consultation has closed on the future of enrolling international fee-paying students under Year 9.


The New Zealand International Education Strategy 2018-2030 envisages a “thriving and globally connected New Zealand through world-class education” combining excellent education and student experience, sustainable growth and global citizenship. The Strategy outlines the strategic shift required to achieve this vision and deliver quality education that benefits New Zealand. This transition will be achieved with a coordinated effort across government and the education sector and when implemented will result in economic, social, and cultural benefits and increased levels of student wellbeing.

The New Zealand International Education Strategy 2018-2030

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, shifts in policies and settings were already starting to achieve the key goals of the International Education Strategy. COVID-19 has significantly disrupted the sector and its impact is likely to worsen. Border controls have led to a significant reduction in international students and there is uncertainty about how the international education market will respond when travel fully resumes. It is possible there will be reduced provider capability and capacity, which could result in a reduction in offerings. 

The Recovery Plan for the International Education Sector, released in 2020, reiterated that international education can play an important part in New Zealand’s recovery from the COVID-19 and in the country’s future wellbeing, but it needs to be geared towards high-value education, student wellbeing and the wider COVID-19 impacts on New Zealand society. The Recovery Plan provided $20 million in funding to stabilise the school sector, address the immediate impacts of COVID-19 in the 2020 school year and aimed to assist schools to transition to their new situation.

The Recovery Plan for the International Education Sector – Education New Zealand

As part of ongoing education programme work, issues with the enrolment of international fee-paying students under Year 9 within New Zealand are being considered. Issues include international students diverting the focus of New Zealand schools away from their core responsibilities to domestic students, inequity between schools and the impact on wider migration pressures like housing and infrastructure.

While it is acknowledged that some of these same issues are present within secondary education, due to the significantly higher numbers of secondary international students who pathway to tertiary level this is seen as valuable for New Zealand. Therefore, the Minister of Education has requested the Ministry to review only the policy settings for primary and intermediate level.

In addition, many international fee-paying students have already left New Zealand to return home, so it is timely to reconsider international enrolment policy settings at the primary and intermediate level before the international borders fully reopen.

In considering the proposed changes, we wish to reflect where we will be offering incentives to protect and enhance areas of high value and where we will pivot and develop new offerings. This will clarify the value we are aiming for, reduce risk and raise social license around international education in New Zealand.

Current situation

International fee-paying students in New Zealand

New Zealand schools are currently able to enrol fee-paying international students at all levels. Primary and Intermediate schools provide comprehensive international education offerings for students under Year 9. International fee-paying students generally fall within one of the following categories:

  • Individual students who come to New Zealand for the primary purpose of education
  • Tour group students who enter for a maximum of three months
  • Dependent children of a range of visa holders who do not qualify for domestic student status

Requirements for the enrolment of international fee-paying students in schools are set out in the Education and Training Act 2020. The pastoral care requirements for students are set out in the Education (Pastoral Care of International Students) Code of Practice 2016 (Note: From 1 January 2022, the 2016 Code will be replaced by The Education Code of Practice 2021).

Education (Pastoral Care of Tertiary and International Learners) Code of Practice 2021

In particular, the Code specifies students: 

  • under the age of 10 must live with a parent or legal guardian unless they are accommodated in a school hostel. 
  • over the age of 10, those who are not living with a parent or legal guardian, must have an approved living arrangement, such as a homestay family or designated caregiver, an approved school hostel, or be part of a properly supervised tour group (maximum of three months).

Numbers of international students enrolled in primary and intermediate schools

Compared to secondary schools (17,700 international students in 2019) and other parts of the education sector, there are relatively low numbers of international students enrolled in primary and intermediate school (see Table 1, based on Enrol data). However, they are enrolled across more schools (324 in 2019).

Table 1: international students enrolled in primary and intermediate schools (2017-2019). EFTS means equivalent full-time students.



Students (headcount)

Students (EFTS)

International revenue
















Some schools have more exposure to international education than others. The Auckland region has the most international students attending primary and intermediate schools. High decile primary and intermediate schools are also more likely to have international students and the main centres are the most likely to host tour groups.

In 2018 and 2019, over 50 primary and intermediate schools hosted a total of over 2,000 tour group students enrolled for short periods of time (up to three months), worth around $3.4m in tuition fees in 2019. (Note: This data excludes students below Year 9 at Composite or Secondary schools who may be part of mixed age groups.) 

Identifying benefits

The International Education Strategy (Goal 3 – Global Citizens) acknowledges international education delivers a wide range of social, cultural, and economic benefits to New Zealand and connects New Zealand to the international stage. This global citizenship goal focuses on global citizens who can study, work and live across cultural and national boundaries. Global citizenship promotes strong international ties, that can benefit trade and research, and promotes an overall positive sense of New Zealand to the world.

In addition, there are economic benefits to New Zealand. The estimated total revenue of the sub-sector was $386m in 2019, including local retail and tourism spend. The estimated economic revenue for an individual international primary school student is over $60,000 annually which comprises tuition fees, plus spending for the student and parent/guardian. It also provides wider economic benefits in the community with some students (over the age of 10) utilising homestays, providing approximately $300 per week to the homestay provider, depending on facilities and the type of board. Wider economic benefits from tour group students, such as educational, travel and tourism activities are likely to be even greater.

The New Zealand education system has a reputation for developing collaborative problem-solvers, attracting those who come to New Zealand for the primary purpose of education. For some overseas families, attending primary and intermediate school in New Zealand is an important part of a longer-term educational plan for their children.

PISA 2015: Collaborative problem-solving

Many parents/guardians want their children to experience our strong pedagogical approaches and develop a good understanding of English prior to pathwaying to secondary and tertiary education. However, the number of students who pathway is not substantial, for example in 2019, 214 international primary students pathwayed to secondary level.

Problem definition

The following issues have been identified for the enrolment of international fee-paying students under Year 9.

Diversion from domestic students

The early years of education provide an essential foundation for continued learning in later years.  We want to ensure that our schools are focussed on delivering the best possible education for domestic students. 

While fee-paying international students are required to cover the costs of their education, Tomorrow’s Schools review noted that there was no close monitoring of the expenditure of international revenue by schools, and thus no way to ensure that resources were not being diverted from domestic provision. They recommended that “schools with international fee-paying students are able to demonstrate that they can cater for these students’ staffing, operational, and building needs independently of their government funding.”

Tomorrow’s Schools review

Resourcing Pressures

Enrolling international fee-paying students has an impact on the teacher workforce, including ESOL teachers. Within New Zealand extra teachers are not readily available.  In addition, schools who do not have a sufficient number of international students to warrant an extra teacher may be placing pressure on existing teachers and diverting attention away from domestic education priorities.

Inequity between schools

The decision to enrol international fee-paying students commits school leaders to significant time investment and requires business development, marketing, and management capacity and capability. These additional resources required for marketing and management activities are more likely to be found at higher decile schools. This situation has created an inequitable distribution of the cultural and immediate economic benefits of enrolling international students across school deciles.  In addition, higher decile primary and intermediate schools are likely to enrol higher numbers of international students, thus compounding the existing inequity of greater third-party revenue from locally raised funds (see Table 2).

Table 2: Primary and intermediate schools enrolling international fee-paying students by decile (2019). IFS means international fee-paying students.


Schools enrolling IFS

Total schools in decile

Percentage in decile with IFS

















































Wider migration pressures

According to the Code of Pastoral Care, international students under 10 years must live with a parent or legal guardian. Pre-pandemic there has been an increase in the number of visa applications for a parent/guardian to enter New Zealand based on their child’s education. 

New Zealand has experienced rapid population growth in recent years and with more citizens than ever returning to New Zealand, during COVID-19, the pressure on the infrastructure and housing is considerable, especially in the major city centres. Immigration New Zealand is currently considering an immigration rebalance to address a range of societal and economic issues being experienced across New Zealand. This rebalance aims to reduce the number of temporary visa holders in New Zealand, including international students.

Proposal for change

To mitigate the described issues, the Minister of Education is considering restricting the enrolment of international fee-paying students under Year 9. Restricting enrolment of international fee-paying students at primary and intermediate level will ensure schools are not diverted from their core responsibility of providing education to domestic students and will address wider systemic issues. 

The changes will aim to decrease the amount of work pressure principals and teachers have in recruiting, administrating, and educating international fee-paying students (particularly at schools who do not have a ‘viable critical mass’ of international students) and ultimately create a more equitable education sector.

The proposed changes are to:

  • restrict the ability of state, state-integrated and private schools to enrol individual and tour group students under Year 9; and
  • exclude from the restrictions the dependent children of visa-holding parents who have come to New Zealand for short term work or study, but who don’t qualify for domestic status.

These restrictions will only apply to new under Year 9 student enrolments. Students already enrolled may continue their education as planned.

Comparing these proposals with other countries, the United States of America and United Kingdom currently do not allow international students to enrol at primary level with the exception of private schools. Canada, Ireland and Australia allow enrolment of international fee-paying student at primary and intermediate level under specific circumstances.

Option for varying levels of restriction

The Ministry is considering varying levels of restriction for primary and intermediate schools. The variables within these options are:

  • State and state-integrated schools and/or private schools
  • Minimum age or year level
  • Type of students (individual, tour group and dependent students)

State and state-integrated schools and / or private schools

By restricting only state and state-integrated schools, the policy will create an inequity within the education sector as private schools will retain the current benefits. Allowing private schools to continue international enrolments will also not as substantially improve the wider migration pressures New Zealand is currently experiencing. As government-funded bodies, state and state-integrated schools’ core responsibility is to provide education to domestic students, which means the risk of being diverted is mainly applicable to state and state-integrated schools. 

Minimum age or year level

When setting a minimum age for restricting the enrolments of international students in New Zealand, two options were considered:

  • restricting enrolment for primary schools under Year 7; or
  • restricting enrolment for primary and intermediate schools under Year 9.

The issues described in the problem definition are applicable for the enrolment of international fee-paying students until Year 9. A higher minimum age would include secondary education which could have implications for students’ transitional pathway into tertiary education.

Type of students

Enrolment decisions will be needed for the following categories of students:

  • Individual fee-paying students: Primary and intermediate students coming to New Zealand for the main purpose of education have been a steady source of revenue for participating schools, but it is these students who potentially cause the greatest issues with diversion and inequity between schools.
  • Tour group students: Tour groups mainly focus on short term economic benefits. Allowing short term tour group students to access New Zealand’s education system has financial benefits for the education, travel and tourism sectors. This group can also create a diversion from domestic students and creates additional work pressure on teachers. There is also the potential for inequity between schools as most enrolments take place at higher decile schools, however short terms tour groups do not create wider migration issues.
  • Dependent students: The opportunity to enrol as an international fee-paying student is particularly important for dependent children. Without this option parents who come to New Zealand, for the reasons their temporary work or study visa was issued, would be unable to educate their children while in New Zealand.

Other considerations

Restricting the enrolment of international students at schools under Year 9 may have a pipeline impact for international education enrolments at secondary and tertiary education levels, however, this risk is minimal as in 2019 only 214 students pathwayed from primary to secondary.

There is a small risk the proposed restrictions will decrease the potential for domestic students to become global citizens at a young age. We see this risk as low as there is already high diversity in New Zealand due to migration, particularly in Auckland, and dependent international students still will enter our education system based on their parents’ visa.

Lastly, there will also be a loss in revenue for schools. The total amount of revenue for primary and intermediate school in 2019 was approximately $29.7m, which will have short-term financial and staffing impacts on schools. The revenue generated by international fee-paying students should cover the costs associated with teaching and learning for those students. Schools are able to decide what any remaining “profit” is spent on, for example an extra teacher aide. The border closure has meant that schools have gradually adjusted to reduced international revenue, as the stream has been disrupted. To mitigate the loss in revenue for schools and allow current international fee-paying students to finish their education in New Zealand, we are considering options to create a transition phase for international fee-paying students currently enrolled in New Zealand schools.