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PM: Alumni Lunch New Zealand Embassy, Beijing

Tuesday, 31 May 2005

Rt Hon Helen Clark Prime Minister Address to Alumni and Education Lunch at New Zealand Embassy, Beijing

12.30 pm (local time) Tuesday, 31 May 2005

Minister Zhou, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a pleasure to be in Beijing and to be able to meet many people who have received or are supportive of New Zealand education.

Today I will speak on the importance of New Zealand’s education relationship with China, as it has become a central part of the overall relationship between our two countries.

EDUCATION ENGAGEMENT WITH CHINA

New Zealand has long had a strong education system. It is a system which encourages creativity and innovation, and expects students to question and challenge assumptions.

Our small country has produced three Nobel laureates, all in the sciences where discovery is so dependent on an ability to think laterally and outside the square.

New Zealand today welcomes large numbers of international students, professors, and researchers to its education and research institutions; and many young New Zealanders pursue further study overseas. Our strong international links help to keep New Zealand education fresh and relevant.

In the last decade, China has grown to become one of New Zealand’s most important and active education partners.

As recently as the early 1990s, only around 100 Chinese students studied in New Zealand each year. Last month, April 2005, there were more than 23,000.

In 2005, China remains New Zealand’s largest source of international students, although the numbers are well down from their peak in 2003 of over 53,000. Chinese students won more New Zealand government doctoral scholarships last year than any other country.

The governments of New Zealand and China have been working hard to consolidate our education relationship. The New Zealand Minister of Education has been a frequent visitor to China; a Joint Working Group on education issues has been established between our countries; and our government has now sent a New Zealand education counsellor to our Embassy in Beijing. This was our first such position anywhere in the world. More New Zealand education is now being delivered in China itself. As well, Chinese language study is growing in popularity in our schools.

My government is keen to expand our education and research links with China. In particular, we share with the Chinese government a desire to establish more high-level education co-operation, including joint research and collaboration.

We hope New Zealand will become known in China, as it is already in other countries, as a place to earn a world-quality PhD, and other quality post -graduate degrees.

As some of you will know, last year the New Zealand government established a new scholarship programme to support international students to study towards a doctoral degree in New Zealand.

I am delighted that some of our new doctoral scholars under this programme, our top alumni of the future, are able to be with us today.

Our government is also extending extra support to these top international PhD students. From 1 January 2006, students who are accepted for PhD study under the supervision of one of our many leading researchers will pay domestic tuition fees only, a ninety per cent saving on fee levels of previous years. Their partners will be able to work in New Zealand and their children be able to attend schools without having to pay international student fees.

These initiatives are part of a total funding package of over US$50 million which the New Zealand government is injecting into building international education links over the next five years. There is huge potential for strengthened education co-operation with China.

ALUMNI

The large numbers of international students who have been studying in New Zealand are leading to big increases in the numbers of New Zealand’s international alumni. The many thousands of international students who are graduating from our universities and polytechnics return home with high-quality academic qualifications and are able to make a big contribution to their countries. We hope they will also be life-long friends of New Zealand.

I am pleased that so many New Zealand alumni can be here today. I hope that your education and experiences in New Zealand are enabling you to make your own valuable contribution to China’s continuing social and economic development.

Yesterday I discussed with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao the growth in the relationship between New Zealand and China in many areas.

We discussed the free trade agreement which China and New Zealand are currently negotiating. New Zealand was the first developed economy to recognise China’s market economy status and to commence FTA negotiations. The FTA offers an unprecedented opportunity for both countries to open up new trade and business links.

The cultural links between our countries continue to strengthen. We are moving into new areas such as visual arts and creative industries, and again finding that we can both bring our own strengths to these partnerships.

For any bilateral relationship to succeed, it must be based firmly on a foundation of personal understanding and co-operation.

As New Zealand alumni here today, you are in a unique position both to help build and to benefit from the strong relationship between China and New Zealand.

You are a human bridge between China and New Zealand, because you understand our culture, society, and strengths in a way which only those who have lived in New Zealand can.

It is my great pleasure today to announce the establishment of a New Zealand Alumni Network in China, the first of its kind for New Zealand in this country.

The network will help alumni keep in touch with the education and research institutions where they studied, with New Zealand, and with each other. It will do this by providing alumni with up to date information about New Zealand and about opportunities in our country.

We want a New Zealand education to provide lifelong opportunities for our graduates and links back to what we hope you see as your second home.

Above all, the network is for alumni. It must meet their needs and reflect their priorities. We look forward to working with alumni to develop it.

The New Zealand government will do all that it can to support and connect with alumni, to maximise the benefits to us all of this relationship connecting our countries.

CONCLUSION

China and New Zealand are heading into new and exciting times. Education links form a strong foundation for our relationship.

I thank all present for your continuing support for and interest in New Zealand education, and for continuing to foster our New Zealand-China education links.

Thank you.

ENDS

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