Homestay organizations, language schools in
New Zealand struggle as they await return of students
New Zealand is known worldwide for its aggressive and successful battle against Covid, with the country suffering only 25 deaths to date. However, that has come at a huge economic cost, especially for sectors like international education.
Homestay has been hit particularly hard. Host Families NZ would normally have about 600 students staying with hosts across the island nation; now they are down to just a fraction of that.
“We’re definitely experiencing a challenging time,” say company representatives Hui Li and Giovana Reay. During the pandemic, there has been greater interest in homestay from domestic students. However, this hasn’t come close to replacing the international student homestay numbers.
Last month, the New Zealand government announced it would begin allowing 1,000 international students back into the country, starting with 300 in April. This initiative is targeting undergrads who are close to completing their degrees. Previously, New Zealand announced that 250 masters and doctoral students would be permitted to return.
Of course, homestay programs will not benefit from this decision, since older university students usually have their own apartments. Host Families NZ works with 247 institutions, whose students are primarily studying English or attending colleges.
Across New Zealand, some language programs have permanently closed, while others have stopped operating temporarily. The rest have seen a dramatic reduction in the number of students. It has impacted the employment of school administrators, teachers and homestay staff.
“It’s very sad to see an institution close down – it has a massive impact, including the loss of teaching jobs,” Li says.
“The global impact of Covid-19 and travel and border restrictions are providing challenges for the English-language sector in New Zealand,” acknowledges Kim Renner, Executive Director of the country’s language school association, English New Zealand.
“We attract more students focused on an English plus tourism experience than on a pathway to further study. Most tend to stay, at least initially and sometimes for their entire enrolment period, with homestay families.”
“The economic and social impact of no incoming students is therefore significant and affects a much broader range of stakeholders than homestay providers,” Renner says. “We are working closely with government agencies on the return of international students and to ensure our quality member schools are able to welcome students as soon as possible.”
Prior to the pandemic, Host Families NZ employed 20 people to match and manage hosts and students. Now they are down to just three staff.
Nevertheless, officials at the homestay firm are confident that students will eventually return and are taking steps to be ready when they do. Instead of placing students, they are completing home inspections and making sure that host paperwork is up to date. In addition, they are reaching out to agents and schools not already on their roster to secure contracts in the future.
They recognize that it may be a slow comeback. “We expect that we will have to survive this year without international students,” Li says. “We can’t expect the border to reopen tomorrow.”