Australia and New Zealand: Will students change their plans if borders remain closed?

Australia and New Zealand: Will students change their plans if borders remain closed?

How have the measures taketo prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Australia and New Zealand affected the study plans of prospective international students?  

Governments in Australia and New Zealand imposed some of the strictest border controls and lockdowns in the world in their efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. 

Both are now planning steps to lift restrictions as their vaccination programmes are rolled out with plans for a gradual return of international students 

The restrictive measures introduced in New Zealand and Australia are widely attributed with preventing the high numbers of cases and deaths experienced in many other nations. 

Since February 2020, QS has been publishing reports which highlight key insights from our survey of prospective international students to understand their perspectives during the coronavirus pandemic including positive perceptions of how New Zealand and Australia performed earlier in the pandemic.

This month, our report focuses on responses from nearly 1,500 prospective international students who are interested in studying in Australia or New Zealand. 


When asked what they would be most likely to do if Australian border restrictions remained in place until June 2022, 39% of prospective international students we surveyed said they would begin their studies online and travel to Australia once borders reopened. 

A further 28% said they would defer their study plans so they could begin their studies in Australia once restrictions had been relaxed. 

In 2018, Australia was rapidly expanding its intake of international students and was beginning to overtake the UK as the world’s second most popular destination for international students. 

Since March 2020, Australian borders have been closed to almost all non-citizens and non-residents so very limited numbers of new students have been able to enter the country. 

This week, details were published about a proposed pilot plan to allow 250 current international students to return to the state of Queensland every two weeks from January 2022.  The news follows the announcement of pilot plans in other states including New South Wales and Victoria. 

Though 36% of respondents felt Australia’s handling of the pandemic had made the country less welcoming, 83% of those of this view cited border restrictions as the main reason. A further 33% described it as more welcoming and 31% said it made no difference. 

New Zealand 

Of the prospective students we surveyed who are considering study in New Zealand, 35% would choose to study in a different country if borders remained closed until June 2022, so they could begin their studies sooner.  

33% would begin their studies online and travel to New Zealand once borders reopened, while 30% would defer in the hope that they would be able to start their studies on campus. 

When asked whether New Zealand’s handling of the pandemic had made them more or less welcoming, 33% described it as more welcoming and 28% as less, with 39% saying it made no difference. 

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced last week that current lockdown measures and restrictions will only begin to be relaxed once 90% of the eligible population are fully vaccinated. 

Plans are under way to allow up to 1,000 international students including 300 degree level students and 300 sub-degree level students to travel to New Zealand from March 2022. 

Alex Berka, QS Market Research and Data Analyst, said: “We know that universities across Australia and New Zealand are eagerly awaiting confirmation of when international students will be able to return. 

“Our latest survey shows that, despite the border controls in place, more than 60% of respondents would not change their planned study destination, even if restrictions remained in place until June 2022. This should give hope to the sector that international students continue to value everything which makes Australia and New Zealand such attractive study destinations.” 

For further insights into how prospective international students feel Australia and New Zealand have handled the pandemic, download our latest report for free here. 

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Dr Ashwin Fernandes

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