In 2017, there were more than 118,000 international students in New Zealand. One third was enrolled in tertiary education while nearly half chose to study at private training establishments. Although immigration laws have changed since then, international education remains New Zealand’s 5th largest export earner, generating $5.6 billion in 2018, with Asia remaining the most important export market in this sector. This is an important statistic for proofreaders who may want to offer their services to international students.

The international education sector clearly provides exciting opportunities for proofreaders, but before you explore this lucrative option, be aware of the risks and challenges that come with accepting work from students whose first language is not English.

International students face many challenges when they come to New Zealand – culture shock, homesickness, financial stress – but the language barrier and different learning styles are the most important factors for proofreaders to consider.

Different learning styles

The New Zealand education system emphasises critical thinking and deep learning. Research has shown that students from Asian origin are used to learning by memorisation while the expectation to form their own opinion that may differ from their lecturer’s may make them feel uncomfortable, adding another layer of stress to their learning experience.

Language barrier

Academic writing requires an upper-intermediate to advanced command of the language. While New Zealand students learn the basic skills of summarising and paraphrasing from an early age, most international students have little or no experience in essay writing and they have to be taught how to write about an idea in their own words. 

What does this mean for you as a proofreader?

Know your boundaries

International students rely heavily on proofreaders to improve the standard of their essays. However, before you start the work, familiarise yourself with what you can and can’t do. Most education providers have clear guidelines for third-party proofreaders on their website. Read them and stick to them.

If you don’t know where your customer is studying or you can’t find the guidelines, ask the student. Although you are getting paid to proofread, you have an obligation to work within the set boundaries.

Here is an example of such guidelines provided by the University of Auckland. They clearly say that it is the student’s responsibility to convey the rules to the third-party proofreader, but if the student doesn’t provide them, you should request them.


Lack of language or academic writing skills can lead to unintentional plagiarism. While a small number of students choose to cheat, experience has taught us that most students do not plagiarise on purpose. Students know that copying other people’s ideas or words without crediting the source is a very serious offence, and they don’t want to risk the harsh consequences.

What do you do as proofreader if you suspect your student could be breaching plagiarism rules?
– Stop work immediately
– Contact the student and explain your concern

Three scenarios may play out:

  1. The student thanks you and makes the necessary changes. Problem solved.
  2. The student asks you to reword sentences. Red flag.
  3. The student denies any wrongdoing and refuses to fix the issue. Also red flag.

In the last two cases, stop your work and explain to the student why you can’t continue. As a last resort, you should contact the student’s supervisor and report the student. That may sound harsh, but you can’t afford to jeopardise your reputation by associating yourself with academic misconduct.


Like in any proofreading situation, communicate clearly with your student. In the case of international students, there is an extra dimension to take care of though. Before accepting the work, provide clarity about the level of proofreading you will provide. Refer to the guidelines. You may have to explain that a proofread is very different from a rewrite.

We recommend including an extra clause in your terms and conditions to clarify that you will follow the education provider’s proofreading guidelines. A clause about what will happen in case you suspect plagiarism may also save you a lot of trouble later down the track.

A final thought

Proofreading for international students can be very rewarding. Although you may never meet your student, you often build a close relationship with the student while they progress through their studies.

When you proofread, you might want to do more than just fix errors; you can include comments to explain why what they’ve written is not grammatically correct. That way, the student learns from the mistakes they make.

Students are very grateful customers, and when they get back to you to let you know they’ve graduated and that they couldn’t have done it without you, the sense of achievement is priceless.