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Mallard Speech: Protecting international students

Protecting international students

Trevor Mallard Speech to International Asian Health Conference, Auckland University.

It is my pleasure to give the opening address at this Inaugural International Asian Health Conference.

I am pleased Auckland University has taken the initiative to host this conference; bringing together health workers, researchers, policy makers and post graduate students to address the vital issue of the health needs and wellbeing of Asian people.

This conference will undoubtedly be a watershed in terms of considering what we know about Asian people’s health and what we don’t know.

New Zealand has experienced influxes of migrants from many parts of the world and now has an increasingly diverse society. For well over 100 years New Zealand has had communities of Asian citizens - primarily of Chinese and Indian descent.

The Chinese were the third racial group to emigrate to New Zealand, after the Maori and European. The first known business contact between New Zealand and China was in the seal fur trade, the Chinese being the top customers of the pelts.

From 1865 to1901, the majority of the Chinese in New Zealand were goldminers, mainly in Otago-Southland. By 1869, they were calling for kith and kin to come direct from China, and this became their chief immigrant stream.

These communities have now expanded, especially since the 1990s and Asians make up the fastest growing ethnic community in New Zealand. In 2001 Asian people numbered 272,000, or 6.6 per cent of the population. This figure is expected to rise to over 600,000 by 2021.

All this offers both opportunities and challenges for New Zealand's future planning, including in the area of health provision.

Within the Asian population, a number of health issues have already been identified. These range from difficulties in accessing the health system, through to chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke, and mental health issues such as gambling and suicide.

In addition to permanent migrants, a significant number of international students have come to study in New Zealand in recent years. As most of you will know, over 85 per cent of the 100,000 or so international students studying in New Zealand are from Asia.

As Minister of Education I would like to reflect on the situation many Asian international students face when they come to New Zealand to further their education.

As well as the concerns all young people have to contend with as they grow up, Asian international students have to manage and come to terms with living in a totally different environment to the one they have left behind.

For many young Asian students, coming to New Zealand is their first experience living away from home.

These students are often very young – some come at secondary school age – and are often unprepared for the greater degree of freedom young people in New Zealand enjoy.

In addition, some come to learn English, often before going on to university study and therefore have significant language barriers to manage as well.

Even those that have reached reasonably high levels of English proficiency before coming here find that it takes time to adjust to the New Zealand accent and New Zealand colloquialisms.

There are of course obvious cultural differences in the way things are done here in New Zealand compared with China, for example.

All these factors add up to a considerable transitional period or period of cultural shock which young, often unprepared Asian students arriving in New Zealand may experience.

The increased levels of freedom they have, can present serious difficulties for Asian students used to interacting within a tightly monitored environment in which they may have had little free time.

Sadly, stories of young Asian students going off the rails or meeting with preventable accidents, injuries or illness during their time in New Zealand are all too well known.

Road and water safety, domestic violence, mental health, problem gambling, and sexual health are all health issues for Asian students and migrants in this country.

That is why I believe this conference, which I note includes a number of sessions specifically focussing on the health and wellbeing of Asian students, is most timely.

In seeking solutions for improving the health of Asian students and migrants in New Zealand, it is vital that policymakers work together – with officials in other government departments, with researchers, and with the community to ensure solutions are appropriate.

I am pleased that this conference brings together representatives from these diverse groups to discuss these issues.

This year, I launched a Chinese language Guide to Studying and Living in New Zealand. This guide was produced by the Ministry of Education with the cooperation and consultation of an extensive range of groups including government agencies, health workers, community groups, and international students.

The guide aims to assist students with their new lives in New Zealand by providing comprehensive information about such things as living, studying, driving, and using our health services.

Information on some of the difficulties Asian international students may face in New Zealand, with details on how to access support and assistance to deal with them, is included.

In a practical sense I’m sure many young students have found the information on New Zealand slang and teenage language very useful.

Many of you will be familiar with the Code of Practice for the Pastoral Care of International Students. Launched in 2002, the mandatory code provides a framework for the provision of pastoral care and advice to international students.

The code was introduced to standardise the provision of quality care and advice to international students outside the classroom. This code recognises that providers of education to international students have an obligation which extends beyond the classroom walls.

Your conference will enable us to build on the work we are doing as we continue to support the many Asian students who come here to study.

I am pleased to see such a distinguished array of international guest speakers and presenters on the conference programme and I would like to extend a warm New Zealand welcome to you all.

In particular, I am delighted to note the attendance of several senior academics from the prestigious Peking University in Beijing, which I visited on my trip to China in May this year.

From the programme, I can see that you will be having an intellectually stimulating and thought provoking couple of days at this conference.

I believe we still have much to learn about lifestyle and other factors affecting the health of Asians in New Zealand. I hope this conference will be a step towards encouraging further research in this area.

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