International students are welcome in Christchurch. Recent news items have discussed the challenges around visas for international students in other parts of New Zealand. It is timely therefore, to reinforce and recognise the contributions they make to our city and our region.
In 2015 we had 11,542 students come to Christchurch to study. They were in primary and secondary schools and universities, The Ara institute and private training establishments. They contributed $311m to our local economy. The Canterbury International Education Leadership Accord, that includes the institutions that provide international education services to students, is working to grow our student visitors to 25,580 by 2025. The contribution they will make to our city and region will be $937m. As valued visitors to Canterbury, they will spend on average $37,300 each on hospitality, activities and accommodation.
The Government, through Education NZ, supports the work of the Accord and recognises that these students and their families who visit Canterbury, return to their countries as ambassadors for us, and encourage many others to visit, study, work and play in our beautiful city.
As Christchurch expands and changes after the 2011 earthquakes, we know that we need to attract and retain skilled workers in our technology, business, and agricultural sectors to contribute to economic growth. Almost half of our new residents, who decide to stay in Canterbury and make it their home, first visited Christchurch on a student visa. We want these talented and energetic visitors to stay in Christchurch and make it their home.
Many agencies, including the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce, The Canterbury Development Corporation, Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism, Christchurch International Airport and our City Council, know that these visitors support economic growth and make our city a cosmopolitan and exciting place to live and work. Our city, on the whole, welcomes these students.
However, we need to ensure we offer a consistent quality of service and experience that matches the level of commitment our visitors have made in choosing to come to Christchurch. They have made a courageous decision to come to our country and city, and from time-to-time they may feel isolated and homesick. How we welcome them and look after them is an important way for us to say thank you, but also to demonstrate to them that they are a valued part of our community.
If we look at the likely 25,580 students who will be living and studying in Christchurch by 2025, there are some other less obvious opportunities for us to consider. Our students can be one of the catalysts for reinvigorating our central city with new places to stay and play – they will need somewhere live and recreate. The opportunity for carefully planned and exciting approaches to new urban development, and hospitality and activities in central Christchurch are perhaps one of the most significant opportunities. Imagine 25,000 new residents living in town and the stimulus they will provide for businesses and developers to create a new vibrant centre for Christchurch.
All of us who are charged with the stewardship of our city and call it home, can make a contribution to be even more welcoming and supportive of our student visitors and their families. As employers we have the opportunity to access new talent, new ideas and new investment that is stimulated by international students and we all have an opportunity to make Christchurch an even better place to live study work and play.