Enrolment downturn a setback for schools

DESK TIME: Mari Bjoelverud, 17, of Norway, right, chose Kaiapoi High School because of its outdoor education programme.
DESK TIME: Mari Bjoelverud, 17, of Norway, right, chose Kaiapoi High School because of its outdoor education programme.

Christchurch schools are still losing hundreds of thousands of dollars as international pupils stay away from the city.

But one expert believes the city has seen the worst and the number of overseas pupils studying in the city will soon rise.

Cashmere High School principal Mark Wilson said the school faced a $200,000 loss after its international roll dropped from 65 before the earthquakes to 45 this year.

The school had managed to absorb the loss through strict budgeting and a drop in capital spending since the quakes.

The school was getting renewed interest from potential pupils, Wilson said, but it would take two to three years to reach pre-quake numbers.

"The general feeling is that there have been other natural disasters around the world and the rest of the world has moved on," he said.

Paparoa Street School principal Raewyn Saunders said that, at its peak before the September 2010 quake, the school had 25 overseas pupils. It now had just two.

The quakes had made Christchurch less desirable, she said, but global financial troubles were also to blame for the drop.

Avonside Girls' High School had five international pupils enrolled this year, compared with 30 before the quakes.

"Christchurch is not seen as a really great international student destination any more," principal Sue Hume said.

International pupils not only brought additional funding into the school, she said, but into the wider community through homestays and spending.

Cashmere Primary School principal Jacqui Duncan said the school had about 10 international pupils before the quake. Since then it had varied from zero to four.

In the past, the school had relied on word of mouth to get international pupils, but now had a marketing plan and aimed to have 10 to 15 in the next decade.

Canterbury Development Corporation international education sector leader Emily Branthwaite said international pupil numbers were still down compared with before the quake, but were looking brighter for this year and beyond.

"I think we've bottomed out."

Some bigger secondary schools were seeing good enrolment numbers, but the primary sector was still down, she said.

She expected the international education sector in Christchurch to take five years to recover.

Outdoor focus attracts pupils

Most Christchurch schools are suffering from a drop in international pupils, but Kaiapoi High School is bucking the trend.

The school has more international pupils now than it did before the earthquakes, with 31 on its roll compared with its average of about 20.

Norwegian pupil Mari Bjoelverud, 17, had also considered Canada but said she found the New Zealand weather more attractive and chose Kaiapoi because of its outdoor education programme.

"There is so much variety. I'd never been kayaking in Norway before but I did that here, and abseiling." She said her father was not too keen on her coming to Canterbury because of the quakes, but they did not worry her.

International director Deanne Gath said the school's outdoor education programme was a big drawcard, especially for pupils from Europe. The school has traditionally attracted pupils from Japan, and in a bid to diversify, Gath and principal Bruce Kearney travelled to Europe last year to build up relationships with agents.

The school still has some Japanese pupils, but now has pupils from Germany, Austria, Norway, Estonia, France and Thailand.

The Press