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Cullen: International education - the way forward

Hon Dr Michael Cullen
Deputy Prime Minister, Attorney-General, Minister of Finance, Minister for Tertiary Education, Leader of the House

17 August 2006 Speech Notes

International education: the way forward

Speech to International Education Conference, Sky City Convention Centre, 88 Federal St, Auckland

I am delighted to be able to address this year’s Education New Zealand conference on international education.

It is fair to say that every aspect of New Zealand’s education system has an international connection of some sort. We often focus on the international students who are for ordinary New Zealanders the face of the export education industry. However, they are only one example of an education system that has little respect for international boundaries.

We teach our students a curriculum which is shaped by academic disciplines that are international in character. That is most apparent in the sciences and languages other than English and Maori, but it is true also of the humanities, social sciences, and arts. We want to equip our students with a body or knowledge and a set of skills that will enable them to be global citizens and make them, and us as a nation, internationally competitive in the global economy.

At the level of our universities, we require academic staff to be familiar with the international literature in their field of expertise, and we encourage them to be active participants in research in that field, to publish in internationally refereed journals and to participate in international conferences and joint research projects.

We expect teaching staff at all levels to be able to access international sources of information and expertise to aid their teaching. And we encourage linkages between schools and tertiary providers here and sister institutions overseas.

What is more, the manner in which we teach often conforms to international norms, for example, by way of international benchmarking and moderation.

Indeed, it would be a difficult task to find any part of New Zealand’s education system that can be said to be purely indigenous and untouched by the world beyond our shores.

So, when it comes to articulating goals and policies for international education, we need to be aware that we have important linkages across the education sector, in terms of flows of students, teachers, ideas, materials, technology and financial resources.

Undoubtedly the growth of export education has been a major development both for New Zealand education and for the New Zealand economy over the past decade and a half. The industry is now our fourth largest export earner.

About 90,000 international students from 150 countries are currently studying here in a wide range of academic disciplines and technical training courses. That of course is a significant drop from the peak of 121,000 in 2003.

The flow goes the other way too, with our own students participating in short term international exchange programmes and studying overseas, primarily at graduate and post-graduate level.

This development creates a challenge for us. And the recent marked drop in international students, alongside a growing concern that we are serving fairly narrow sections of the market in terms of country of origin and the type and level of courses, has I think provided a helpful wake up call.

We need to be clear on what we are trying to achieve with international linkages, and we need to be alert to the risks. That includes the business risks that are involved in running a major export industry, with issues around diversifying markets, ensuring consistent quality, protecting the value of the New Zealand brand, and so on.

It also includes the risks that arise from running a major revenue earning business alongside of a public education system, in many instances using the same infrastructure and human resources that have been funded by the taxpayer for delivering educational outcomes for New Zealanders.

I want to make it clear that I believe New Zealand educators can, on the one hand, be a major provider serving the world’s knowledge economies with high quality education at secondary and tertiary levels, and on the other, deliver the same high quality service to New Zealanders, young and old, as a public good. It simply requires a sophisticated and coordinated approach, based upon a disciplined pursuit of agreed goals.

What should those goals be? I think there are four that we need to keep in mind:

- First, that New Zealand students are equipped to thrive in an inter-connected world;

- Second, that providers are strengthened academically and financially through international linkages;

- Third, that international students are enriched by their educational and living experiences in New Zealand; and

- Fourth, that the direct economic and social benefits to New Zealand from international education activities grow to their full potential.

I want to discuss each of these in turn, and suggest ways in which the government and the sector can lift our performance within a reasonably short time frame, including a reversal in the decline of international student numbers.

Regarding the objective of having New Zealand students equipped to thrive in an inter-connected world, I would see a need to focus on:

- encouraging international content in course programmes and learning experiences for New Zealand students, specifically a better understanding of Asia in both the national curriculum and in tertiary teaching;

- strengthening the teaching of second languages, especially Asian ones; and

- increasing international experience for our students at the higher tertiary end; that is, degree and post-graduate programmes.

I have asked the Ministry of Education, the Tertiary Education Commission and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority to ensure that these learner outcomes are featured in the consultation processes around the new national curriculum and the new Tertiary Education Strategy.

My challenge to education providers is to demonstrate how they have expanded the international learning experiences for young New Zealanders, especially their knowledge of and links with Asia. We need, in short, to create more of two-way street in terms of educational benefits.

The second objective is strengthening providers academically and financially. The recent drop in international student numbers has exposed some deficiencies in what might be called the ‘business model’ of some providers. Building a more stable long term customer base is essential if we are to justify the investment in export education.

Education NZ, as the peak industry representative body, has an important role to play in coordinating the sector and encouraging longer term planning and investment in marketing, service delivery, pastoral care and quality systems.

The government will work with them and NZ Trade and Enterprise to ensure that the government’s new agenda, and the sector’s overarching internationalisation strategies are well aligned. As well, through our education diplomacy work the government will seek to facilitate cooperation arrangements, and promote student and staff mobility.

We will also to seeking to provide leadership through our discussions with the sector on the new Tertiary Education Strategy, and the Tertiary Education Commission’s new investment strategy. At the secondary schools level, the government’s support will include working to raise the profile of the NCEA as an internationally recognised and valued qualification, both for young New Zealanders going overseas to work, and for international students who complete the NCEA here.

If we can work together on these and other strategies, I am confident that in five years time we will see that linkages and business partnerships have been strengthened and deepened, and that new relationships have been built to attract quality international students and to develop more research and academic connections.

Regarding the third objective of enriched experiences for international students, I believe that, despite the occasional newspaper headline, New Zealand providers overall do a very good job. As with any service delivery business, one should always assume that there is room for improvement, and no room for complacency.
New Zealand’s welcoming environment for international students and researchers was undoubtedly a major factor in the growth of the industry up to 2003. A number of isolated incidents dented that, and had an impact well beyond what was justified. However, that is a reality that providers as a whole need to manage.

The government can assist with this by ensuring we have an effective quality assurance and pastoral care framework. But you, as providers, need to maintain and strengthen the provision of that care so that the students feel well looked after and enjoy a high quality lifestyle to support their education experiences in New Zealand.

As many of you will know, an evaluation of the Code of Practice for the Pastoral Care of International Students is about to be completed. Its recommendations will be available shortly. They will help government agencies and the sector identify areas in which pastoral care policy can be made more effective.

I would like to see better integration of international students into our tertiary institutions, schools and communities in general. We would all like international students to return home recommending New Zealand as an excellent place to live and to receive an education. We would like international students to make life-long friends and develop professional connections.

This is not just a serendipitous outcome. We can work to ensure it happens, and that involves coordinated effort from both the government and the sector through their representative bodies and through Education New Zealand.

The fourth major outcome is that international education makes a direct contribution to New Zealand’s social and economic development. We believe that a well-balanced and mature export education industry, with diversified markets and a range of connected product offerings, has the capacity to grow from the current $2 billion in revenue per annum, to $2.5 billion in five years time.
In achieving that growth, however, we need to develop an expanded vision for the international links of our education system. We need to see education initiatives supporting innovation by strengthening New Zealand’s research capabilities, especially in the sciences.

We want to see a greater uptake overseas of New Zealand’s intellectual property and closer links developed between international education and other areas of New Zealand’s global business activity. In many of our key export industries there are opportunities to create added value by expanding into allied educational services, for example, education in agriculture and horticulture management and the global supply of innovative products from these sectors.

My challenge to you in this regard is to seek out New Zealand businesses that are already operating on the world stage, and to use your research and knowledge skills to strengthen innovation in those businesses that are just beginning to test their abilities to work offshore.

The government will be an active participant in pursuing this new agenda. We are already active in developing international linkages, promotion and marketing campaigns, the new scholarship programmes, education diplomacy initiatives and work to improve quality assurance and pastoral care policies and practise.

This financial year, the government will be spending $12.5 million on domestic status for international PhD students, on international scholarships, study abroad awards, the export innovation programme and promotion.

Today I am announcing that the government will be re-allocating some of the Export Education Levy funds to support additional promotion and marketing activities.

While the levy funds must be used for a range of purposes, I think it is important that additional support be provided for promotion and marketing over the next two years. If we can build New Zealand’s profile as a quality provider of education it will benefit all aspects of international education.

This is not to say that the other aspects of the levy’s uses are not important. Activities in areas such as professional development programmes and research need to continue. Those activities support the broader contribution of international education to the development of high quality learning outcomes for all students in New Zealand’s education system.

I have agreed to allocate an additional $1 million from the Export Education Levy Trust account this financial year and also in 2007/08, to supporting the generic promotion and marketing plans that your Promotions Reference Group has developed. As well, an extra $200,000 will be provided this year from Vote Education to support more promotion and marketing work in India.

I will also be asking my officials to investigate proposals for an expansion to the scholarships programmes, other promotion and marketing ideas, and support for an education resource in the Gulf region to underpin the sector’s work there.

We live in a world that is hungry for education. I firmly believe that New Zealand can meet some of that demand, and establish itself as a premier provider in a number of high value niches in the international education market.

I also believe we can do so in a way that supports our efforts to educate our own children and young people. None of this will happen by accident, however. There are choices to be made, trade-offs to be considered, and investment decisions to be considered.

Getting the balance right involves an ongoing dialogue between providers and the government. That has already proven fruitful, as the recent examples of joint action demonstrate.

The next five years will be crucial in placing the industry on a surer footing, and focusing our activities on meeting shared goals. It is a journey that the government is eager to facilitate, in partnerships with providers.

Thank you.


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