Universities beg Government to allow international students back as COVID-19 losses grow

Universities say New Zealand is at risk of losing its high-paying international students if the border doesn't open soon. 

They're urging the Government to reconsider this week's decision not to allow international students to return for the next semester beginning in July and August.

With thousands of international students stuck overseas universities say they're staring down the barrel of a $400 million loss.

"We know that there are other countries that are looking at reopening their borders and if we don't get our borders opened soon we are going to just not see their students again and it's going to take us a long time to rebuild," Universities NZ director Chris Whelan says.

But Education Minister Chris Hipkins says the country doesn't have the capacity to quarantine all of the students.

"That would put our COVID-free status, our very good progress around COVID-19 elimination, at real risk. We don't want to see COVID-19 across the border," Hipkins says.

Third-year Auckland University commerce student Rohan Pradeep left the life he'd built in New Zealand to go home to Singapore, just as the country went into lockdown. 

"It would definitely be upsetting not to be able to come back anytime soon or finish my degree," Pradeep told Newshub.

Whelan says universities have strong quarantine plans, using student hostels.

"It's easy to monitor students in them and basically we can provide 24-hour seven-day-a-week supervision."

National agrees appropriate quarantine measures can be put in place but the Government isn't confident hostels would be secure enough and will announce a recovery plan for universities within the next few months. 

While universities welcome the package, they'd prefer borders are just reopened to international students so they're not a drain on the public purse.