Christchurch's $381 million export education industry has nearly evaporated, but Tertiary Minister Steven Joyce says the earthquake-battered sector will survive.
Joyce said he was concerned that there had been "a significant decline" in the number of international students in the city.
On February 22 there were 6600 international tertiary students and 1412 foreign school pupils enrolled with Christchurch providers.
Providers, including Canterbury University and the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT), say many of their overseas students returned home after last month's quake, but most have indicated they will return.
Canterbury University vice-chancellor Rod Carr said 35 international students out of the 1095 enrolled on February 21 had so far requested fee refunds.
The university's full-refund cutoff date has been extended to April 21.
"A number of our international students are enrolled but went home and we won't know [if they are coming back] until at least a couple of weeks pass," Carr said.
"It's important people don't feel that the university is trapping them, taking their money and not delivering a service, yet on the other hand we clearly need to maintain our own resource base in order to deliver the research and teaching."
In 2009, foreign tuition generated 12.3 per cent of the university's gross revenue.
This year, the university was budgeting on international students supplying about 9.5 per cent of its roll. Last year, they comprised 9.2 per cent, with 2026 enrolled.
Joyce said the city played a "big part" in the country's export education market and had a strong reputation that would see it through.
Of the city's 120 private training establishments, many of which offered English-language classes to international students, about half were operating again.
There was "some risk" that several may never reopen, he said.
Education New Zealand spokeswoman Michelle Waitzman said the quake's effect on the sector was a national issue. The challenge was to show that the country was safe.
"They need to know that 99.9 per cent of the country is fine, as are large parts of Christchurch," she said. "We need to say to them that natural disasters can't be predicted. There's no more chance of them happening in New Zealand than anywhere else."
- © Fairfax NZ News