Boost for quake-hit education sector

Last updated 16:38 09/08/2012

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Education leaders say a decision to extend work rights to English language students in Canterbury will give Christchurch's once flourishing English language school sector a welcome shot in the arm.

The work rights are part of a $5 million government plan announced in March to boost international education in the quake-hit city.

Christchurch, which used to account for 15 per cent of the country's export education, now only represents about 5 per cent.

The change means students who previously had to pass a language proficiency test and be enrolled for at least six months, will be able to seek work for up to 20 hours a week.

Educators speculated the changes in Canterbury were a pilot scheme that could be extended nationally.

Rob McKay, owner of the Christchurch College of English or CCEL, said work rights for English language students were already offered in Australia and today's move helped Christchurch compete.

Not all would want to work, he added.

"I think it's more that students want to feel that they have the option of seeking part-time work, so I think it will be quite a significant attraction."

McKay said the drop-off in international students to Christchurch since the earthquakes had been "huge".

Even at his own school, student numbers were down more than 50 per cent on pre-quake levels.

Charles Finny, chairman of Education New Zealand, an agency which promotes New Zealand education overseas, also welcomed the move.

"International education is important to Christchurch, and all the players in the sector are working extremely well together to make sure the world knows Christchurch is a high-quality education destination."

In announcing the change, Immigation NZ acknowledged that there might be concerns of increased job competition with local youth.

But the department said the potential economic benefits to Christchurch outweighed those concerns.

McKay agreed, saying it really only brought English students into line with thousands of international students who already had work rights or were here on working holiday visas.

"We're talking here about allowing some students the right to seek part-time work and the payoff is that it creates growth in the industry and permanent work for teachers."

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