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International Education Conference - PM Address

Thursday 12 September 2002

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister


Education New Zealand –
International Education Conference

Inter-Continental Hotel

9.10 am

Thursday 12 September 2002

Thank you for the invitation to speak at this opening session of the conference today.

Thank you also at the outset for the contribution which those who provide international education are making to New Zealand.

The economic benefits are obvious. This sector in 2001 earned one billion dollars foreign exchange for New Zealand. You set that target to be met by 2004, and achieved it three years early.

Those earnings have flowed into education institutions and communities all over New Zealand. And they are set to rise further yet. The challenge before us is not whether this sector can be grown, but how large it can grow while retaining high quality standards.

Today I also want to stress the intrinsic benefits of having international students among us.

In the age of globalisation and instant telecommunications, no land is an island.

Our people will increasingly interact with the citizens of other nations with very different cultures, languages, and heritage.

It’s important that we get to know and appreciate a diverse range of peoples, and having large numbers of international students here helps us do just that.

The students not only enrich the school community. They also provide new interests for the many families who host them. We all know of the stories of ongoing contacts where members of the New Zealand families travel to the students’ home countries to meet their families. This does wonders for international understanding.

Over many years I have come to appreciate the value to New Zealand of our overseas alumni.

Those students who came in the 1950s and 1960s under the Colombo Plan generally rose to be influential in government, the professions, or commerce in their country. Throughout the participating countries, New Zealand had many friends with fond memories of their time here.

I first attended a New Zealand alumni function in Thailand in the late 1970s, and last year attended one in Korea. The message is always the same; the graduates’ time in New Zealand was a highlight of their lives.

That goodwill was created from a relatively small base of students. Now with many tens of thousands of students coming, the potential for goodwill and intangible benefits for New Zealand is so much greater.

But much depends on maintaining the quality of the New Zealand educational experience. That is a top priority for both the sector and for the government.

As a government, we have been prepared to put our money where our mouth is to back the sector, and to take a number of practical initiatives, working with you.

Since 2000, we have contributed $3.3 million for generic marketing, and $1.3 million for industry development initiatives.

An up to date strategy on developing export education was released by Education Ministers in August last year.

Ministers have also been part of promoting export education. Trevor Mallard was in Japan, Korea, and China on a mission this year, and Steve Maharey was in China promoting New Zealand education last year.

I have also been pleased to have senior representatives of Education New Zealand join business delegations accompanying me to Asia and Latin America.

Russell Marshall was with our group in Japan in April 2001, and Lestor Taylor joined our five nation tour of Latin America in November.

From the universities, Professor James McWha from Massey joined me in Turkey; Professor Brian Gould from Waikato was with me in China; and Professor Graham Fogelberg from Otago came to Latin America.

My contact with each of them on these delegations has helped me understand how the sector promotes itself and where market opportunities lie.

As a result I know something about the strategic alliances our universities are forming with offshore institutions, which are creating new opportunities for our students and theirs to study for joint degrees, or to gain credits in each other’s degrees.

I’ve also spoken at New Zealand education promotions in Shanghai and Hong Kong, and met representatives of our schools on those occasions.

My impression is that parents overseas, like parents here, want to know that their children, of whatever age, will be safe and get a quality education. What New Zealand also offers is education in the highly desirable medium of the English language at a reasonable cost.

One market which made a great impression on me was Brazil. We held two events there, both wildly successful.

The first was an evening reception organised by the local Trade New Zealand staff. As I stood in the reception line for a very long time, I met huge numbers of education agents who place students overseas.

The following day we held a joint education and tourism promotion. New Zealand has a growing reputation among young Brazilians for adventure tourism, and Tourism New Zealand produced a video on that for the occasion which was loudly and enthusiastically received. I am convinced that there is more opportunity in that market.

Indeed Brazil with its vast population of well over 200 million is a good example of a market we could expand into more. And at a glance, the numbers coming from India and Indonesia also appear light, given their huge populations.

China has been supplying a large and growing number of students and they are welcome. But over-dependence on any particular market or region is a risk, and diversification is to be encouraged. It also helps maximise the cultural benefits of having international students.

I understand that various groups in the sector have recently undertaken marketing missions in countries as diverse as Mexico, Fiji, Turkey, and Russia; and that an education mission is due to visit Dubai and Saudi Arabia shortly for the first time.

A focus for the missions now is the New World Class marketing brand. I have been excited by the marketing material associated with the brand. It draws attention to New Zealand as a dynamic 21st century nation, which is not only clean and green, but is smart, innovative, sophisticated, and lively as well.

Indeed the promotion and role of this sector fits very well into the government’s Growth and Innovation Framework, released in February.

We are pitching New Zealand as a land where diversity is valued and reflected in our national identity; a great place to live, learn, work, and do business; a birthplace of world changing people and ideas and a place where people invest in the future.

International education has a valuable role to play in that vision as it brings students from all over the world to our shores and to our classrooms and communities.

International education gives young New Zealanders the opportunity for friendships and cultural exchange with other young people from a range of countries. Cross-cultural skills will be more and more important as New Zealanders strive to succeed in an increasingly borderless global market place and society.

The personal ties which are formed with international students will be even more valuable in the future in building New Zealand’s bilateral links and promoting our connectedness with the rest of the world than they have been in the past.

International education is also one of the knowledge based industries which will drive New Zealand’s future prosperity.

What is of overriding importance is that our export education is of high quality and commands a high value in the market.

As we know with our past dependence on low value, primary sector commodies, they don’t sustain first world living standards.

Our aim is to drive the New Zealand economy up the value chain, and sectors like education must lead the way.

That is why we are taking initiatives like the introduction of the export education levy, which will help drive quality, including through implementation of the Code of Practice for the Pastoral Care of International Students. I know there is concern that even a handful of poor providers can do damage to New Zealand’s international reputation.

This conference gives a good opportunity for catching up with the latest developments and emerging issues in the sector. I wish you a happy two days of hard work and brainstorming. Our government looks forward to continuing to work with you to grow and diversify the sector, while maintaining its quality and its intrinsic benefits for our communities.


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