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Life after Study

International students' motivations for choosing NewZealand

Highlights

  • Most former students in the Transitions Survey were Asian: students from North Asia (predominantly China) made up just over half of all students, followed by students from South-east Asia (16percent) and South Asia (15percent).
  • English instruction and migration opportunities are key factors in international students' choices about where to study. The quality and cost of education were important drivers for over half of respondents.
  • Just over one-third of students who transitioned to residence as skilled migrants intended to apply for residence from the outset.
  • Thirty-six percent of students sought qualifications to help them gain permanent residence in NewZealand, and half of these respondents first came to NewZealand intending to apply for permanent residence.
  • The most important factors influencing students' decisions to apply for permanent residence were lifestyle (80percent), safety and security (80percent), and educational opportunities (68percent).
  • Economic-related motivations were relatively weak pull factors for international students - only 56percent chose to migrate to NewZealand for job opportunities.

Introduction

We used the Department of Labour's Transitions Survey to explore the motivations and intentions of former students who transitioned to residence as principal migrants through the Skilled Migrant Category. This chapter explores the motivations of international students who chose NewZealand as a study destination, their intentions to apply for permanent residence when they first came to NewZealand, and what motivated them to apply for permanent residence.

Consistent with the analysis of immigration administrative data described in chapter3, most former students in the Transitions Survey were Asian. Former students from North Asia (predominantly China) made up just over half of all students, followed by students from South-east Asia (16percent) and South Asia (15percent). Most survey respondents (83percent) were aged 20-34.

International students' motivations to study in NewZealand

There are several motivating factors for choosing a study destination. Additionally, different reasons for choosing to study in NewZealand may be associated with different outcomes.

Respondents in the Transitions Survey were students who had gained permanent residence. Therefore, we expect the factors that motivated them to be different from the factors that motivated students who did not stay on in NewZealand. For example, we would expect migration-related motivations to be higher among those who did become permanent residents than among those who left after completing their study.

Respondents were asked to rank the importance of various factors in influencing their decision to study in NewZealand.[31] These factors were categorised into logical groups and tested for consistency.[32]

The findings showed that international students who transitioned to permanent residence as skilled migrants were motivated to study in NewZealand by a variety of factors, including migration opportunities, education, NewZealand being an English-speaking country, and costs. Table 4.1 shows these category groupings and the percentage who chose at least one of the factors in the category as 'extremely important' or 'very important'.

Table 4.1 Factors motivating international students to study in NewZealand
Category Motivating factor Percentage choosing this
factor (%)
Percentage choosing this category (%)
Migration opportunities Opportunity to get a work permit after graduation 44.1 68.8
Opportunity to obtain permanent residence in NewZealand at a later date 44.9
Opportunity to obtain NewZealand citizenship at a later date 29.7
Opportunity to move to a country other than NewZealand at a later date 21.5
Education Quality of NewZealand education 51.7 62.8
International recognition of NewZealand qualifications 58.3
English language NewZealand being an English-speaking country 60.5 60.5
Costs Living costs in NewZealand 37.8 59.4
Cost of education in NewZealand 56.2
Ease Easy to get a student visa 37.8 37.8

Source: Department of Labour, Transitions Survey (2007-2008).

These findings correspond to the international literature that shows, among other factors, that English instruction and migration opportunities are key factors in international students' choices about where to study.[33] The quality and cost of education were important drivers for over half of the respondents.

Different groups of students had different motivations. Students whose highest qualification was a bachelor's degree were more likely to be motivated to study in NewZealand by cost factors (68percent) than students whose highest qualification was vocational (49percent). The average tuition fee in 2007 for an international student at university was $17,000 compared with $12,000 at institutes of technology and polytechnics.[34] The differential in tuition fees may mean cost was a greater consideration for university students than for those enrolling at institutes of technology and polytechnics.

Students from Europe, South Africa, and North America (ESANA) and North Asia were less likely to be motivated by education factors than were students from South Asia, South-east Asia, and Other regions.[35]

International students' migration intentions

The availability of migration opportunities after study is an important aspect that international students consider when choosing their study destination. We examined the intentions of international students to apply for permanent residence when they first came to NewZealand to study.

Respondents were asked about their migration intentions when they first came to NewZealand. Just over one-third (37percent) of former students who transitioned to residence as skilled principal migrants intended to apply for residence from the outset. This finding suggests that many international students do not intend to migrate at the outset of their study, but change their plans after they arrive in NewZealand.

Former students who had gained a qualification in NewZealand before being granted permanent residence were asked whether they had sought a qualification to help them gain permanent residence in NewZealand.[36] Thirty-six percent of students sought their qualifications for migration purposes, and half of these same respondents (51percent) said they first came to NewZealand with the intention of applying for permanent residence. This means that for around 13percent of former students who became skilled migrants qualifications were, at least in part, a means to gaining permanent residence.

Students whose highest NewZealand qualification was vocational were more likely to report that they sought this qualification to help them gain permanent residence (Figure 4.1). The shorter length of time required, on average, to gain a vocational qualification and the lower average tuition fees at institutes of technology and polytechnics and private training establishments may be factors that contribute to this result.[37]

Figure 4.1: Proportion of respondents who sought qualifications to help gain permanent residence by highest qualification gained in New Zealand

Figure 4.1: Proportion of respondents who sought qualifications to help gain permanent residence by highest qualification gained in New Zealand.

Source: Department of Labour, Transitions Survey (2007-2008).

Data table for Figure 4.1

Department of Labour, Transitions Survey (2007-2008).

International students' motivation to apply for permanent residence in NewZealand

This section looks at what factors motivated former students to apply for permanent residence in NewZealand. Only one-third of former students who transitioned to residence as skilled migrants intended to apply for permanent residence when they first came to NewZealand to study.

A similar exercise to that described in section 4.2 (which grouped motivations to study in NewZealand) was conducted for motivations to apply for permanent residence in NewZealand. Table 4.2 shows the groupings and the percentage who chose at least one of the factors in each category as 'extremely important' or 'very important'.

For international students who transitioned to residence, the most important factors that influenced their decision to apply for permanent residence were lifestyle and safety and security (80percent for each category). Within these broad categories the highest ranking factors were NewZealand's clean and green environment, the relaxed pace of life, and safety from crime and violence.

Table 4.2 Factors motivating international students to apply for permanent residence
Category Motivating factors Percentage choosing this factor (%) Percentage choosing this category (%)
Lifestyle NewZealand's clean and green environment 66.2 80.4
NewZealand's relaxed pace of life 60.5
Good housing in NewZealand 32.6
NewZealand's small population 31.5
Availability of services in NewZealand 42.1
Recreation and leisure activities available in NewZealand 41.9
Climate (for example, weather) 40.9
Safety and security Political stability and lack of corruption in NewZealand 54.7 80.1
Freedom of religious and political expression in NewZealand 51.2
NewZealand's safety from crime and violence 63.8
Inter-racial, ethnic, or religious harmony 45.6
Education Educational opportunities in NewZealand 54.1 67.6
Educational opportunities for children in NewZealand 54.9
Work and living costs Job opportunities in NewZealand 55.5 59.3
Living costs in NewZealand 38.2
Family Opportunities to bring family to NewZealand 40.9 56.2
Securing a place for the family to live if desired in the future

48.3

Source: Department of Labour, Transitions Survey (2007-2008).

Education considerations continued to play a role in former students' decision making, with around two-thirds of former students specifying educational opportunities (including education for children) as an extremely or very important factor. Former students from North Asia and ESANA were less likely to be motivated by education factors in their decision to apply for permanent residence in NewZealand.

Economic-related motivations were relatively weak pull factors for international students. Only 56percent chose to migrate to NewZealand for job opportunities. Although job opportunities in NewZealand are not as attractive to international students as other features of NewZealand, employment is likely to be a key contributor to retaining these migrants in NewZealand. The following chapter examines labour force outcomes in more detail.


[31] For question text and response options, see AppendixE.

[32] The logic of the groupings was tested using Cronbach's alpha. Some factors did not correlate well with other factors, so these have been reported on separately. For example, English language was initially in the education category, but these factors did not correlate well together, so English language was moved into another category.

[33] OECD. 2009. Education at a Glance: OECD indicators. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, p315.

[34] The average tuition fee was derived from total tuition income divided by the number of equivalent full-time students, excluding GST: Ministry of Education. 2010. Key Indicators for Export Education Levy for Full-Year. Available at www.educationcounts.govt.nz/__data/assets/
excel_doc/0008/74609/Key-Indicators-EEL-2003-2009.xls

[35] For information on region groupings, see AppendixG.

[36] For the question text, see AppendixE.

[37] Ministry of Education. 2010. Key Indicators for Export Education Levy for Full-Year. Available at www.educationcounts.govt.nz/__data/assets/
excel_doc/0008/74609/Key-Indicators-EEL-2003-2009.xls