Developing the capabilities of New Zealand’s international education sector is a major priority of the nation’s education strategy. The key to this lies within the ability to understand and contextualize the preferences, goals and expectations of prospective international students and then tailoring course options to meet these expectations. Vice President Operations at QS Enrolment Solutions, Davorin Vrdoljak, outlines lessons and insights from the company’s latest research that will help New Zealand universities stand-out in a competitive global market.

Building strong links between New Zealand’s international tertiary education sector and local industry is becoming increasingly important in positioning New Zealand as a global leader in international education and in preventing the ‘brain drain’ of New Zealand graduates leaving the country’s shores.

QS Enrolment Solutions’ latest International Student Survey (ISS) – Growing Global Education: Rising to the international recruitment challenge – has revealed that nearly two thirds of the 5,263 international students considering New Zealand as an education destination, intend on staying in the country after graduating to work within the domestic market. This insight reinforces the importance for higher education institutions to work closely with industry in order to tailor courses to meet the expectations of students’ future employers, enabling the successful transition of international graduates into their chosen field of work.

Now in its seventh year, the QS Enrolment Solutions ISS continues to grow in size and scope. The 2019 survey included more than 77,000 individual responses from prospective international students from around the world. A survey of this size enables us to conduct a robust ‘deep dive’ analysis of the sentiments of prospective international students, individual markets and demographics. It also allows us to highlight where the key differences are in terms of attitudes, values and decision-making processes.

This year is the first time we produced a tailored New Zealand edition, based upon receiving the largest New Zealand sample size to date. The report captures the thoughts, values, intentions and expectations of more than 5,000 international student prospects considering New Zealand as a destination. It provides a robust, informative and insightful look into a market that provides a unique proposition for prospective international students.

The survey also revealed that prospective international students clearly want and expect a broad educational experience that teaches them the technical skills and theoretical aspects required of their chosen field, plus the general ‘soft’ skills that employers value: problem-solving, leadership and communication skills. An educational experience that includes both of these aspects will go a long way in helping New Zealand recruit the best international students and develop highly employable graduates.

What can universities do to align employment expectations of international students and the core skills required by employers?

  1. In order to maximise students’ communication skills, continue to place emphasis on the development of English language skills from initial recruitment, testing and throughout the degree
  2. Create greater opportunities for group work in diverse student teams to support the development of interpersonal communication and teamwork skills
  3. Provide career guidance throughout the degree and not only in the final year
  4. Communicate employers’ expectations in order for students to correctly prioritise their own skill development
  5. Dedicated advice service for international students’ both on/off campus

Ultimately, it is in New Zealand universities’ best interest to take responsibility for improving the employability of their students, as it will increase their competitiveness as a tertiary destination of choice. Furthermore, quality graduates enhance the overall appeal of a university, and improve the sentiment surrounding international students within the community. Increasing the appeal of New Zealand as an education destination for international students is good for the education sector and good for the economy in terms of attracting and retaining some of the world’s best educated.


  1. Most international students that I have come across in my teaching are only here to gain residency. Sad, but true. It would be nice if they genuinely had a long term outlook when they arrived – ie. those who want to study, work, and raise a family here.


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