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Quality education for international students a key

25 August 2005

Quality education for international students a key

Speech to Education New Zealand annual industry conference, Hotel Grand Chancellor, Christchurch

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Good morning everyone. It is my great pleasure to meet up with you again to talk about issues that are important to us all in the international education sector - a sector contributing around $2 billion a year to the New Zealand economy.

New Zealand's reputation as a developed, smart country has been reinforced by marketing research firm Anholt-GMI which recently placed New Zealand at number 10 in a list of the 25 strongest national brands in the world.

The international education industry here - with its strong focus on quality and excellence - is a vital part of this brand.

Collectively we have done a lot to consolidate the industry in the past year.

It is important that this work continues so we remain at the cutting edge.

Since we are in the midst of an election campaign, can I say at this point that I strongly believe that the international education industry deserves cross-party support and that it could do without being undermined here and overseas by opposition politicians.

I know you are having a political forum tomorrow where opposition parties will discuss their approach, and I sincerely hope that certain politicians have moved beyond the political point-scoring that can be - and was - so damaging to our reputation overseas in recent times.

I believe our government's track record in this area has been constructive and we've backed the industry with significant investment - in fact more funding than any previous government.

There is still work to be done, but I am confident that the working relationships, and collaborative partnerships between industry and government bode exceedingly well for the future, as we work together to further drive up the quality and add value to this important industry.

Though the international education market in New Zealand appears to be stabilising overall, trends in student numbers vary for different parts of the sector.

Numbers of international enrolments in our universities have grown in the last year. In schools, however the downward trend from 2003 to 2004 seems to have continued into 2005.

For English language schools the Statistics New Zealand survey to 31 March 2005 showed student numbers at 50,000 - about the same number as in 2004.

Total income from these students is, however, well down. Enrolments are for shorter periods and providers have lowered fees to continue to attract students.

What this snapshot picture of the industry tells me is that international education is now like other mature export industries.

Strong international competition and the development of local institutions in our main markets have increased the pressure for providers to stay on top of the game and deliver top quality.

It also tells me that more help is required for the sector, and in particular the school and English language sectors.

I am talking about assistance that covers promotion, lifting quality, professional development, and also using research and academic links to underpin and help strengthen the quality of education that is provided for our international students. I'll talk a bit more about this later.

During the past two years the government has invested considerable effort and money in international education through legislative change, policy work, new programmes and significant injections of new funding.

The export education levy introduced in 2003 provides more than $3.5 million annually to support research, professional development, quality assurance, promotions and marketing.

The aim is to develop a vibrant research programme in future, so there is more industry self-management of quality assurance and professional development.

Recent changes to student immigration policy - at your request - make it easier for international students to work and study in New Zealand.

We have also granted domestic status to new international PhD students which will dramatically cut their fees to domestic levels.

We are also extending the benefits of domestic status to the dependant children of all international doctoral students so those children no longer pay full fees in New Zealand schools.

We made all these changes because we want to see our top international students staying on in New Zealand if possible. They can play an important role in our government's commitment to address skills shortages, to upskill our workforce in general and further develop innovation in the New Zealand economy.

This change was also an important step in making sure that New Zealand remains competitive in the international education market. On the international stage, the Labour-led government continues to negotiate for and gain market access for New Zealand education providers in trade agreements. Currently we are seeking market access for New Zealand education providers in the trade agreements we are negotiating with China, Malaysia, and the ASEAN nations. They cover massive markets. And of course there is the now substantial package of international education funding which the government has delivered in the last two years to support strategic promotion and marketing, and a range of other programmes.

We have now committed $70 million over five years to 30 June 2009. Annual funding will be $20.5 million by 2009.

Within this package, building stronger education relationships with our key bilateral partners is a priority - hosting incoming delegations, expanding our own education-led delegations overseas, and growing our network of education counsellors. The second counsellor, Mike Woods, has been appointed to the USA, with responsibility for Canada. Mike will be making sector visits throughout the country in September and October before taking up his posting in Washington later in the year. We are currently recruiting counsellors for Brussels and Kuala Lumpur as well as looking for a replacement for Alastair Crozier in Beijing who is stepping down in October. I'd like to highlight other key developments that have occurred over the past few months.

We have had the first round undergraduate Study Abroad Awards. 26 New Zealand students from universities and polytechnics have received awards so far.

Officials will be working with representatives of the PTE sector over the next few weeks to establish study awards for students in private training establishments.

There has also been the first round of the post graduate Study Abroad Awards. 33 awards have been made to assist New Zealand students to go to 17 different countries - including China, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Korea, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan, and El Salvador.

Applications for the second round of international student doctoral research scholarships closed on 15 July and more than 330 applications were received from over 40 countries - a good sign that New Zealand is in demand.

The government's strategic focus on international education was given more traction in this year's Budget.

As well the support for new international PhD students, we increased investment in education diplomacy with funding for an additional three counsellors. Decisions on locations will be made over the next few months, as we consider the results of investigative studies on the Gulf and Latin America and assess how we can best support our growing education relationships in North Asia and India.

The combined impacts of industry and government international education policies, programmes and practices over the last two years have had variable impacts in the sector.

In particular we need to see better results in the school and English language sectors - and, as I have noted, there will be work in this area.

Government and industry must continue working together on increasing diversity in the international education industry, and on continuous quality improvement.

On the government side, as well as the new education counsellors, we will also be consolidating programmes which have been introduced - scholarships, study awards, innovation funding - and assessing which programmes work well and could be expanded.

A comprehensive assessment is necessary of options for how government can best help schools and the English language sector to build the quality, scale and scope of their provision for international students.

Interaction between government and these parts of the sector is needed over the next six to eight months, so that we can understand better how to attract and retain more students to quality providers in these parts of the sector.

This will require better knowledge about pathways and movements within and between the various components of international education in this country; and good hard data on levels of student achievement.

I look forward to joint industry-government research and analysis in this area.

Fundamental to our further development of government investment in international education is a long-term, well informed, strategic vision of where we want to be in five or 10 years, and a well-planned, logical set of steps to take us there.

I have spoken about that in previous years when I have attended this conference.

I appreciate the urgency that has driven shorter-term actions, including a focus on next year's enrolment numbers (on the industry side) and the bedding in of the new programmes.

However, a long-term strategic plan, informed by good research and sound monitoring and evaluation of current programmes, is essential to inform any future new policy. We need to know what works best and what additional tools we need to further build on the industry's strengths.

On the industry side, I look forward to increasing self-management and self-monitoring, underpinned by a strategic and holistic approach towards how international education is managed in New Zealand and our offshore bases.

I expect it will be informed by research funded through the export education levy and high quality professional development programmes identified by that research.

Nothing that I have seen or heard about international education, particularly on my missions in Asia, Latin America, Europe, and the Gulf, has changed my conviction that a sustainable international education industry in New Zealand must be based on quality.

I mean quality across all aspects of international education - quality teaching, quality care and protection for students, quality living experiences, and above all, quality education results for students.

This is the key to attracting international students to come to study here, and to contribute their skills, innovation, creativity and vision to our economy.

Further developing the sector to increase its value is the way forward for the industry and government.

I believe we can increase the $2 billion that the sector already contributes to the economy, by continuing to expand into new markets, by being innovative in what we do, and by doing it well.

New Zealand's international brand depicts a smart, outward-looking economy - an economy in which your industry has a major role.

Thank you for your commitment to international education and for the hard work you are all doing. I look forward to a very prosperous future for Education New Zealand.

ENDS

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