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NZ needs international and local students, minister says

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Steven Joyce
Steven Joyce

By Kate Chapman of NZPA

Wellington, May 31 NZPA - Blaming domestic enrolment restrictions at universities on international student numbers is "lazy logic", Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce says.

Both need to be maximised but one group does not influence the other, he said.

His comments follow criticism that the Government wanted to boost international student numbers while universities were limiting enrolments for domestic students.

Victoria University this month said it was closing admissions for domestic students for the rest of the year. Otago university said it was capping admissions for some courses for domestic students for the second semester and would look at limiting entry in 2011. Massey University has now made similar moves, blaming the lack of government funding.

New Zealand Student Association Union co-president David Do said government underfunding was making it harder for New Zealanders to get ahead and increasing international student enrolments was "not a silver bullet for continued underfunding".

The quality of education, so often a selling point for overseas students, was also under threat, and people who most needed education, including Maori and Pacific Island students, were being turned away, he said.

"Some will question why, when universities say there is no more capacity to enrol any more students, they plan to accept more international students rather than domestic students."

Labour's tertiary education spokeswoman Maryan Street echoed these sentiments. She said encouraging more international students was a "cheapskate's approach" to funding tertiary institutions.

Universities would only introduce more restrictive entry criteria because they were not adequately funded, Ms Street said.

Mr Joyce said such comments were "lazy logic" and New Zealand needed both types of students.

New Zealand needed the most domestic students that could be afforded and significant increases in international student fee income, he said.

There were record domestic student numbers -- 117,400 full time places next year -- which was a "significant investment", he said.

Recession effects would decline, student loan eligibility for Australian and permanent residents would change and there would be a new requirement for students to pass half of their courses, which would reduce domestic student demand next year, Mr Joyce said.

The current situation was "reasonably unique", he said. "I think we'll see a better balance next year."

For those students who missed out at Massey, Otago and Victoria there were other institutions still accepting enrolments although that may not be "ideal", Mr Joyce said.

Around 20 percent of Australia's student body was international compared to New Zealand's 13 percent, Mr Joyce said.

Australian universities' international fee income was "significantly higher" than New Zealand's.

New Zealand tertiary institutions needed to maximise their international student base -- up to the Australian level -- to compete for staff and ensure the students in New Zealand had the best academic staff training them, Mr Joyce said.

New Zealand invested a "large amount" in tertiary education by world standards, a lot of which goes into student support, including student loans.

However, he said the Government had no plans of canning interest-free student loans.

"I think there's still room to move funding around within the system.

"We don't see massive changes occurring for student loans and certainly not changes in the interest-free entitlement," Mr Joyce said.

The Government had not considered allowing domestic students to pay the international student price because it created two levels of students, Mr Joyce said.

"It's something as a country that we haven't, to this point, felt comfortable with and I'm certainly not flagging that we'd change from that."

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