Young New Zealanders opt for study after overseas travel cut off by COVID-19

With overseas travel off the table thanks to COVID-19 many young Kiwis are opting to study instead.

It's good news for universities, but one expert worries about the impact of a generation missing out on their overseas experience (OE).

Samantha Herbert is now pouring through medical books instead of European travel guides. When the border slammed shut last year, so too her travel dream.

"It was just awful, I didn't know what to do," she says.

She'd been saving for months for her UK visa, which she received just weeks before lockdown.

"I was really excited, I'd saved up and planned a lot of it," Herbert says.

The pandemic clipping the wings of many travel-hungry Kiwis like Herbert - who started a nursing degree instead.

"Travel and doing our OE is part of our DNA. It's a way of broadening our horizons and getting experience. It's a way of doing different things," says sociologist and professor at Massey University Paul Spoonley.

In pre-COVID times about one million New Zealanders lived overseas. Prof Spoonley says with many returning home, or not leaving at all, society will change.

"In the future we're going to have a group of people who won't have done that… so it's quite a shift for us," he says.

It's a shift that appears to be pushing more young people into tertiary study.

Domestic enrolments across all New Zealand universities are up an average of 9 percent this year - at Victoria University in Wellington there are 1350 more Kiwi students than in 2020.

"About half of our students are students that may have been interested in overseas experience or employment, we can't tell the difference," says Victoria University of Wellington Vice-Chancellor Grant Guilford.

At Victoria University it's almost made up for the loss of 1300 international students.

"The lost revenue from a loss of international students is almost completely counter-balanced by increased revenue in domestic students," says Professor Guilford.

But there are concerns flightless Kiwis could be jumping too quickly into studying.

"Just going and enrolling in a university might not be the best thing for everybody," Prof Spoonley says.

Or the best thing for society. Prof Spoonley says the OE has been a rite of passage for generations of Kiwis.

"What happens when we turn that tap off, when we don't have New Zealanders who are travelling around the world, getting experience and doing those things that are really important for them as they mature into adulthood?"

The loss of that experience may be felt by New Zealanders like Stephanie Herbert, long after the borders re-open.