The dollar sign above every international student

July 2013


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International student numbers may be down, but educational diplomacy, along with other initiatives to provide a more transparent system for overseas students are in full swing as the Government strives to double New Zealand’s export education industry by 2025.

In addition to boasting about their NCEA results, course offerings, sporting facilities, or cultural opportunities, an increasing number of school and tertiary websites are also boasting about New Zealand.

Those in the market for international students know they are competing on a global scale for these students. And as schools are well aware of the dollar value of international students, they are all too happy to post pictures of sparkling seascapes and lush green fields in an effort to lure these students through their school gates. These students and their families are purchasing a lifestyle, after all, not just an education.

Although fees comprise a large component, money generated from international students is spread beyond the education sector. On average, an overseas student spends $35,000 per year, including accommodation and lifestyle.

Indeed, export education is big business for New Zealand. It is flagged as our fifth-largest export contributing around $2.7 billion a year to the economy. The Government is aiming to double this figure by 2025.

“To meet this target, and to ensure that New Zealand remains an attractive destination for international students, we need to constantly be looking to improve on the support and service we offer those students,” says Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse.

Interestingly, the annual Migration Trends and Outlook, released in March, reported a seven per cent drop in international student approvals to 68,980 – the lowest since 2008. The number of first-time student visa approvals had also dropped about 25 per cent since 2009.

Labour export education spokesman Raymond Huo told the Herald that immigration “hiccups”, dodgy education providers, and unscrupulous student agents are damaging

New Zealand’s export education reputation. He says fewer international students are choosing to study here because New Zealand has an image as being a destination for “ghetto education”.

However, while the number of students has fallen, there is reportedly a two per cent increase in the amount of fees collected by education providers, according to Tertiary education Minister Steven Joyce. He says the decline had mainly come from fewer students enrolling for language courses, but there is an increase in students enrolling in polytechnics and universities.

The Government appears committed to driving international student numbers, with several initiatives implemented recently to encourage students to come to New Zealand. Woodhouse points to changes to health screening that are expected to help “cut costs and red tape” for students. Work rights have also been extended to English language students who attend quality education providers in Canterbury.

“These sorts of initiatives – combined with recent improvements in processing times for student visas – will make a huge difference in growing our export education industry,” says Woodhouse.

Indeed, education was certainly on Prime Minister John Key’s agenda during his trip to China in April. Tertiary education minister Steven Joyce and Education New Zealand’s chief executive

Grant McPherson accompanied the Prime Minister to discuss aspects of what McPherson has termed ‘educational diplomacy’ with Chinese authorities.

China is of huge strategic importance to New Zealand’s export education industry. It is the largest source of overseas students, accounting for more than 25 per cent of the 100,000 international students currently enrolled in New Zealand’s schools and tertiary institutions.

However, there is also an increasing emphasis on attracting students from new markets, such as South America and Asian nations like Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, as well as a renewed focus on Japan and South Korea.

McPherson told the Herald that he perceives growth potential in polytechnics and private tertiary institutions that combine classroom and on-the-job training and offer specialist training in certain areas. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) plays a key role in monitoring education provider standards.

NZQA has had to flex its quality control muscle on many occasions in recent years to bring private training establishments into line. It is crucial that it does, in order to assure students from China and other countries that their education in New Zealand will be comparative with that offered by other overseas institutions. Certainly, Australia, Britain, the US and Canada are all in the same game and draw huge numbers of international students.

International education fairs, such as the China International Education Exhibition Tour, are significant in attracting students. Educational institutions from around the world compete to promote their courses to prospective students. The Chinese event boasts more than 900 booths with around 30,000 attendees.

Labour’s Raymond Huo believes some education agents attending these events have given New Zealand a bad name. Certainly without licensing, the system is open to the altruism or greed of the agent. As it stands, an education agent could potentially lure a student with the promise of splitting the commission with them.

There are some measures in place to help govern agents. Education New Zealand’s Specialist Agent training programme helps to increase the effectiveness and ethical behaviour of agents promoting New Zealand education.

In spite of such measures, Huo says Labour would introduce a licensing regime for education agents, similar to that for immigration adviser licensing. Formal licensing of education agents is not on the cards, according to Woodhouse, who is reluctant to put up unnecessary barriers for overseas students.

Education New Zealand’s McPherson perceives the biggest threat facing Education New Zealand to be online course delivery, rather than agents or other countries. “Education is changing with non-traditional delivery methods including online. We need to ask if New Zealand has a role to play in this area,” he told the Herald .

Meanwhile the web has an important role to play, not only in marketing and luring overseas students to New Zealand, but also in providing support when they are here. A new website, was launched earlier this year in order to provide advice and support to international students.

“The new website provides international students with a ‘one-stop shop’ where they can get information about their employment rights and responsibilities, health and safety in the workplace, work conditions attached to student visas and settlement resources,” says Woodhouse.

The website focuses on how international students can work while studying and offers a surprisingly candid view of the difficulties they can encounter. On the home page, there is a video montage featuring a number of interviews with international students at University of Auckland. The students’ answers reveal that the “first year is stressful”, that is “takes a toll on you”, that it “took a while to find work”, that employers are keen to know what

New Zealand experience you have, that language difficulties can pose a problem, and so on.

While it doesn’t paint an altogether rosy picture of working and studying in New Zealand, it does paint a realistic one. The site deals with Immigration New Zealand’s policies in terms of how much students are allowed to work on a student visa (20 hours a week), as well as what an international student should do if they wish to remain in New Zealand to work upon completion of their studies. It also includes a raft of information for employers.

While formal licensing for agents does not appear likely in the near future, it appears more deliberate attempts to improve transparency, communication and quality control are being made in an effort to reach the Government’s $4 million export education aspirations.

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