Export education ready to graduate

June 2010


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ROB STEVENS writes on the strides New Zealand has made in welcoming international students

Twenty-one years ago, before the passage of the 1989 Education Act, international students were an exotic rarity in most of our schools and universities. A visit from an exchange student was met with curiosity and some trepidation.

Today, international students have become an integral part of the New Zealand landscape, and for schools, tertiary institutions and private training providers all around the country, international students are an extremely valued part of the student body.

International students give New Zealand’s educational system a more international perspective. This will help the New Zealand economy remain competitive in the global market place because our future workforce will be at ease with a range of international languages, cultures and beliefs.

It also means we are able to tap into international connections and networks through the relationships formed.

International students also provide a welcome source of foreign currency income for New Zealand. The latest Ministry of Education statistics show New Zealand’s tuition income from international students increased by $61.7 million in 2009 alone.

But what makes this achievement even more significant is this growth excludes the wider economic multiplier of international student expenditure throughout the wider economy with accommodation and living costs. Once this broad economic impact is taken into account, using the widely accepted Infometrics economic multiplier, the economic growth impact in 2009 is more like an astonishing $200 million in a single year.

In addition to the foreign exchange benefits, the industry employs more than 45,000 New Zealanders.

While many industries suffered one of their most difficult years on record in 2009, export education showed remarkable growth. This was due in part to education’s counter-cyclical nature. In a recession when jobs are scarce, people turn to further education to improve their skills or delay entering a competitive employment market.

In many countries, getting an English-language education or simply learning the language itself is seen as the key to future career success.

How much has this industry grown in a decade? In 1998/99 there were 8233 first-time student visas issued to fee-paying international students. In 2008/09 the number was 30,735. This pipeline into our institutions has more than tripled in size in 10 years.

Export education has become a mature industry in New Zealand. Our institutions have established strong relationships overseas, and earned excellent reputations for providing a quality education at a reasonable cost. The majority of our universities feature in international academic rankings.

And most importantly, former students are returning to their home countries with high praise for their Kiwi experiences.

Access to promotional funding from the government enables us to have a presence at important events like the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, and to bring key education agents and international media to New Zealand to see first hand what we have to offer students.

It doesn’t come a moment too soon. New competitors are also cropping up in unexpected places. University programmes in English are being offered in many European universities, as well as in some Asian countries. New Zealand is on top of its game at the moment, but the rules are constantly changing. Keeping ahead of them is the key to the industry’s future.

Growing pains

The export education industry has had its growing pains. An influx of international students in 2002-2003 created a need for regulation in the industry, and better protection for students. A compulsory Code of Practice for the Pastoral Care of International Students was introduced in 2003, protecting the rights and welfare of international students.

More recently, Education New Zealand introduced a New Zealand Specialist Agent qualification in 2008, training and vetting education agents in a number of countries to ensure students and parents receive accurate information from an ethical source.

Also key to the success of the industry has been some tightly focused, highly effective marketing of New Zealand as an educational destination through a variety of branding and marketing initiatives – both in-country and increasingly online.

New Zealand is competing head-to-head with the UK, Canada, the US and Australia for the same students looking for an English-speaking country where they can study. A wide variety of international research confirms that for our size, we’ve been enormously successful in attracting students.

This marketing programme has been funded by a levy on tuition from international students, and through the Ministry of Education. Last year the government expressed a desire to see export education grow, and they invested an additional $2 million into promotion through Education New Zealand.

This has enabled the industry to meet an ambitious goal of 10 per cent growth in fee revenue year on year. In other words, an extra $2 million in investment was turned into $61 million in added revenue, with another 10 per cent growth targeted this year.