International Education in New Zealand: New Applications for “№8 Wire”

“Policymakers are positioning international education within a fragile eco-system where sectors of the economy could collapse without the contributions of international students”


In 19th century New Zealand, №8 wire was the preferred wire gauge for sheep fencing, so farms often had plentiful supplies. It was said that one could just about fix anything with a handy piece of №8.

Over time, the idea of №8 wire came to represent the ingenuity, resilience and resourcefulness of New Zealanders and became a symbol of the nation’s ability to improvise and adapt. Today, New Zealand faces an array of more complex challenges.

As if with a piece of №8 wire in hand, Anthony Ogden, executive director of education abroad and exchanges at Michigan State University writes, the nation’s leaders have begun to reimagine international education as a viable strategy that can be repurposed to solve some of the country’s pressing challenges.

Although international education is generally discussed in relation to international student and scholar mobility, it is being framed in New Zealand as a dynamic industry in terms of export value, immigration, and as “supply chain management” to bolster the domestic workforce.

The nation’s policymakers are positioning international education within a fragile eco-system wherein certain sectors of the economy would potentially collapse without the economic and workforce contributions of international students.

According to Education New Zealand, the roughly 130,000 international students in New Zealand generate $4.5 billion annually, making education the country’s 4th largest export.

“Delegates were concerned with ensuring international students have a high-quality experience in New Zealand”

The prevailing focus of the recent NZIEC was oriented toward enhancing collective efforts to more effectively recruit and support international students. Discussions centred on identifying new opportunities for growth and expansion of the industry and accordingly, a number of key themes seemed to emerge.

The positive impact of international students on the New Zealand economy was a pervasive topic throughout the conference, but so too were conversations that suggested that international student mobility could be leveraged as a means to attract skilled immigrants to the country.

“Kiwis have identified an array of complex societal challenges and have once again turned to an unconventional solution, that is international education”

Some hoped that international education could be leveraged as a pathway to citizenship provide a potential solution to national concerns about population stagnation. Others proposed that international student flows could be redirected outside of Auckland, to more rural locations that have experienced significant population decline.

With broad acknowledgement of the importance of international education in contributing to a vibrant and prosperous New Zealand, it came as no surprise that conference delegates were similarly concerned with ensuring that international students have a high-quality experience while living and studying in New Zealand, or in other words, product protection.

Echoing this sentiment, the nation’s policymakers have moved to develop an ambitious International Education Strategy for New Zealand that outlines the government’s vision for international education in 2025. The strategy promises to ensure that New Zealand continues to benefit from international education while safeguarding quality education and student well-being.

The government also recently introduced New Zealand’s first International Student Wellbeing Strategy that introduces pastoral care requirements to ensure  that host institutions are supporting and protecting international students.

Although this collective work is remarkable, the international education sector is not without certain challenges.

For example, international students now account for an impressive 12% of New Zealand’s total education enrolments.

At some institutions, the proportion of international students can be much higher. These institutions have arguably become financially reliant on international students, in spite of the reality that doing so may be unnecessarily risky and unsustainable.

One political incident or pandemic could jeopardise the financial security of these institutions. In fact, IIE Project Atlas reports that just over 60% of all international students studying in New Zealand come from just two countries – China and India. Educational leaders may recognise the need to further diversify, but the allure of potentially large recruitment successes in China and India remains hard to deny.

Finally, the attention given to international student recruitment has overshadowed efforts to ensure that domestic students can similarly engage in international learning. Of the nearly 370,000 domestic HE students in New Zealand in 2015, only 5,370 studied abroad, with nearly 45% studying in neighbouring Australia.

Despite its challenges, the approach to international education in New Zealand may be best represented by the №8 wire analogy.

With broad governmental support and thoughtful leadership throughout all sectors of higher education, the Kiwis have identified an array of complex societal challenges and have once again turned to an unconventional solution, that is international education.