Safeguarding bn-dollar export education industry
Hon Trevor Mallard
12 August 2003
Safeguarding billion-dollar export education industry
Speech to the Education New Zealand Conference, Te Papa, Wellington
Thanks for inviting me to address you today.
I first want to congratulate those of you who have helped grow our export education industry to its current value of $1.7 billion.
It would also be fair to say that the industry you are dealing with is proving to have its risky and volatile sides.
Today I want to talk about the need for a "big picture' approach to the industry.
I will suggest that this is going to be vital in the coming months and years to help safeguard the industry's future.
Your business relies on enrolments of students from half a world away, mostly North Asia.
A wide and largely unpredictable range of factors - internal and external - affect students and potential student numbers.
They include the usual suspects - SARS, the value of our dollar, our reputation as a good education deliverer, and local attitudes.
Things can change so quickly - just eight months ago the news media was full of stories voicing calls for limits on student enrolments.
There is plenty of evidence from elsewhere that it is important for industry and business to plan carefully to get the right balance between the various components of their enterprise.
A large proportion of you here today are involved in education businesses where you have to maintain the right balance between international and domestic students - for schools and public tertiary institutions your main responsibility is to domestic students.
How international students complement and enhance activities for domestic students is a challenge that we are still coming to grips with in this country I think.
I know that there are some guidelines for this domestic / international balance.
For example, the Australian Benchmarking manual for their universities suggests that a university with a balanced onshore international student programme would have:
- an international student population of no more than 20 per cent of total enrolments;
- a high spread of international students across fields of study, with a maximum of 40 per cent and minimum of 10 per cent for 80 per cent of fields of study; and;
- a good range of source regions.
I know some providers here in New Zealand have already made the conscious decision to limit international student numbers to no more than a set percentage of total enrolments.
For those of you here whose business is mainly or entirely international students the domestic / international balance is not an issue.
But a good range of source regions is.
Our current dependence, right across the board, on three countries - China, Korea and Japan - for four out of five students is just not sustainable and carries risks - as witnessed when SARS arrived.
There are many other regions whose students could come to New Zealand.
Earlier this year, for example, as part of an education mission I visited the Middle East and found many governments there are keen to increase the number of students they send here - Oman, United Arab Emirates, Dubai, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia - especially at tertiary level. They are interested in studying subjects including medicine, computer science, and English language.
A wider focus is, therefore, vital to help future proof our export education industry.
I am aware that many individual education providers have well thought out strategic plans with just this in mind.
The government is keen to see the education industry as a whole adopt a broader long term strategic outlook to ensure that the reputation of New Zealand as a quality education destination for international students is maintained.
But a longer term strategic outlook is also needed so that the experiences of New Zealand domestic students benefit from wider exposure to international contacts and opportunities, and so that New Zealand communities support the export education industry.
So where do we need to be heading in this area?
I would like to outline for you where I think international education needs to put its emphasis, at least in the short to medium term.
Two key areas are:
- monitoring and improving educational and pastoral quality in international education; and
- managing capacity in the New Zealand education system.
In order to continue the industry's success and maintain our good reputation internationally it is absolutely essential that the education provided is quality education, and that students actually leave New Zealand with the skills and education they came here for.
We need to get into a culture of continual improvement in this area as international students are becoming increasingly discerning about the quality of the education they receive.
I must stress that the industry's reputation depends on students having a positive experience here. The industry should be working to ensure that all our international students have competent and qualified teachers.
To be as effective as possible, the teachers should also be culturally aware and sensitive to the effects of cultural differences on learning.
On a positive note, we do have a lot to offer, including world-beating educational services like TKI, the ASSTLE assessment tools for teaching and learning and the hugely successfully crown-owned education publishers Learning Media.
We should be emphasising the quality and strengths of New Zealand's schools and tertiary providers in marketing.
We have just released a strengthened Code of Practice for Pastoral Care International Students. This revised code, and the strengthening of NZQA's powers to protect the quality of the education system, will help maintain quality.
To manage capacity more effectively we need to be thinking smart about the right balance of international students, not just in individual education organisations, but also in certain localities and regions.
We need to look at a better spread across the country of institutions participating in export education.
I think there is a lot of potential here for more co-operation between public and private providers. Of course providers have different student markets and offer different education experiences. But it's in everyone's interests to work together to ensure the export education industry in New Zealand continues to offer sustainable and quality education.
And we need to look much more imaginatively at the scope for off-shore programmes which can be managed effectively with respect to quality of education and pastoral care.
But international education is far more than earning dollars from the foreign students coming here or whom we can enrol in off shore programmes.
It's also about achieving bigger national social and economic goals through broadening international linkages.
I note that Jane Knight is talking tomorrow about internationalisation of education - an important concept that many of you will be familiar with.
Internationalisation incorporates the following elements in addition to enrolling international students:
- learning and cultural activities for all students to promote international understanding and develop global attitudes, knowledge and behaviour;
- fostering student and staff exchanges;
- involving the whole community in the international activities of the organisation;
- participating in international education learning and research activities.
Giving domestic students exposure to international experience, building overseas links and activity, and managing off shore programmes are all relevant here.
This wider approach to international education is a key component of the Growth and Innovation Framework launched by our government last year.
At the heart of the framework is how we can speed up growth by getting the best knowledge and education outcomes for New Zealanders.
Part of this will be finding the best ways to keep the best and brightest of our young people contributing to the development of our economy and society.
And it will also include recruiting the best and brightest from overseas to come to New Zealand - as short-term researchers or workers, or for longer periods of time.
This is a key part of recently announced immigration policy changes intended to attract high skill people to this country.
Increasing our global connectedness will provide exciting employment, education and research opportunities for young New Zealanders by exposing them to high quality research and educational experience, whether here or overseas.
We are seeking to encourage brain exchange.
So rather than trying to focus too much attention on keeping Kiwis at home, we must find ways for them to gain the best overseas experiences, the most advantage from their overseas experience, and the maximum benefit from working with and relating to international students, researchers and teachers who come here to New Zealand.
International education is a major component in the Tertiary Education Strategy which is aimed at better aligning tertiary education to New Zealand's social and economic goals.
Bringing a richer international focus to our education system can deliver longer-term economic benefits beyond the immediate revenue and economic activity that international students generate while studying.
In an increasingly globalised and competitive market for talent and skills, international students are a key source of both skilled migrants settling in New Zealand.
They also give us connections beyond our borders, and networks for enterprising New Zealanders doing business abroad.
Export education has come a long way in a short time.
But to ensure it has a sustainable future, we need to take a "big picture' approach, with longer term strategies that both protect the industry and take New Zealanders and foreign students with it as it grows.
This means making sure we manage the risks.
And equally important, it means making sure the education we provide is quality education and a quality experience for the students involved.