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Cullen: Future directions for internat'l education

Future directions for international education

Improving international education is not just about export education, but also about opportunities for New Zealand students to improve international understanding and develop global attitudes, knowledge and behaviour.


Speech notes for ISANA international education conference, Pipitea Campus, Victoria University.

I am delighted to be here today to address this year's ISANA New Zealand conference.

This is a welcome opportunity to explain the important part international education plays in the government's economic transformation agenda. Specifically, international education contributes directly to the agenda's sub-themes of 'high standards in education, skills and research', 'national identity' and 'growing globally competitive firms'. To realise these goals a strong international focus is needed in our education system.

In this context it is clear that international education is not just about export education. Nor indeed is it an isolated sub-field of education. Increasingly every aspect of our education system has an international connection of some sort. International education encompasses a wide range of activities, ideas, and services. International education means learning and cultural activities for students that promote international understanding and develop global attitudes, knowledge and behaviour.

It means fostering domestic students and staff exchanges internationally, on both a commercial and non-commercial basis, including overseas development aid. It means involving the whole community in the international activities of an education organisation. It means participating in international research activities.

In relation to international students, I recognise the importance of providing quality experiences for them while they are studying here. International students will be the best ambassadors for us in our internationalisation efforts. Both academic quality and the quality of living experiences create and sustain demand for international education. Solid quality assurance mechanisms and an effective pastoral care framework are vital.

Striking the appropriate balance between growing international student numbers, maintaining and building quality, and diversifying our international linkages for the whole of the education system will always be difficult. It will require investment of time, people and effort by both the government and the sector to achieve quality results in all three of these areas. We will need to work smarter, leveraging off other activities but always ensuring that quality is central to both the domestic and international dimensions of education.

As we look to the future, I am conscious that to build New Zealand's engagement in international education longer term, and to remain attractive as a quality education destination in the face of strong competition, we need to be thinking about how to progress these three elements together. Over the last few months, the government has been re-examining how this could happen and the core outcomes it thinks New Zealand needs to achieve through international education.

A couple of week's ago I announced the government's agenda for international education for the next five years and how it will need to encompass activity across four broad goals to achieve what we want. These activities would include those for the students, the education system, and New Zealand as a whole. We want to be assured that:

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

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

- providers are strengthened academically and financially through international linkages; and

- the direct economic and social benefits to New Zealand from international education activities grow from the significant $2 billion a year now to around $2.5 billion in five years time.

We want to see that the skills, knowledge, and networks of our students and providers are strengthened by strong international linkages and experiences, and that our education knowledge, policies, practice and innovation attract world-wide interest, generating productive academic and business partnerships.

I would also expect that students, teachers, and scholars from a range of countries are attracted to New Zealand's education because of its quality and relevance, and top international students seek employment contributing to knowledge creation and production here after their studies, or retain links from abroad that benefit New Zealand.

There are a number of specific outcomes which I believe will help the government and the sector to lift our performance within a reasonably short time-frame - the next one to three years, including a reversal in the decline of international student numbers.

Firstly, international students being enriched by their experiences in New Zealand. I believe that, despite the occasional incident, overall New Zealand does a good job in this area. But we know from listening to students themselves that there is room for improvement. I would like to see New Zealand's well known welcoming environment for international students be maintained and improved. You are the frontline deliverers of this outcome.

The government can assist with this by ensuring we have an effective quality assurance and pastoral care framework. One such example is the evaluation of the Code of Practice for the Pastoral Care of International Students, which is about to be completed. I will return to this later.

I would also 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 a very good place to be educated, to live a high quality lifestyle, and to make life-long friends and professional connections. Both the government and the sector, have roles in carrying out research and supporting initiatives to help make this happen.

Now, turning to the second goal - New Zealand students equipped to thrive in an inter-connected world, the goals the government would focus on include:

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

- strengthening the teaching of, and interest by New Zealand students, in second languages, especially Asian ones; and

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

I would expect institutions through their strategic business planning, and international education activities, both at home and offshore, to expand the international learning experiences for young New Zealanders, especially their knowledge of, and links with, Asia, and for the international students who will learn alongside them.

I consider the third goal - providers strengthened academically and financially through international linkages - very important in order to encourage the strengthening of international education activities for the wider benefit of New Zealand's education system.

The government can further provide leadership through our discussions with you about the outcomes included in 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 with the sector to profile 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.

Our expectations would be that in five years time, we can show that the linkages and partnerships have been strengthened and deepened, that new relationships have been built to attract quality international students and develop more research and academic connections, and that your balance sheets are in good health.

Finally the fourth result, while being much broader in its focus - a direct contribution to New Zealand's social and economic development - is also important. The government hopes to see the following outcomes in five years time.

We want the existing contribution of the export education industry to GDP of $2 billion annually to be maintained, and if possible, grown to $2.5 billion in five years time, through a combined government and sector emphasis on development and diversification activities.

We expect to see education initiatives supporting innovation in economic activity 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, for example education in agriculture and horticulture management and the global supply of innovative products from these sectors.

This new agenda and its expected outcomes flow from most of the international education activities being implemented already by the government and the sector. These activities include the work that I've already mentioned to develop more international linkages, promotion and marketing campaigns, the government's new scholarships programmes, education diplomacy initiatives and work to improve quality assurance and pastoral care policies and practise.

With the wider agenda in mind I will now turn to some recent developments in the pastoral care framework. As some of you may be aware an evaluation of the Code of Practice for the Pastoral Care of International Students has been underway and is near completion.

Recommendations from the evaluation will be available shortly. The evaluation aims to provide information for the government, the Ministry of Education, the sector, and key stakeholders. The report will assist government agencies and the sector in deciding whether there are areas in which pastoral care policy can be made more effective.

While the evaluation has been going on, my officials have also been working with ISANA on initiatives in relation to the safety of international students. In particular examining the effectiveness of information for international students and examining potential safety initiatives for international students.

The effectiveness of information we provide to International Students is very important. With this in mind, the Ministry of Education commissioned an evaluation of the Guide to Living and Studying in New Zealand, the Chinese edition. The evaluation showed that the Living Guide is regarded by Chinese students as a helpful document, especially when they are preparing to come to this country. The evaluation also gave suggestions to work on for the Guide, such as building awareness and distribution of the Guide.

My officials have also informed me about the positive work that ISANA have been doing on international student safety through the National Safety Advisory Group. The National Safety Advisory Group was established by ISANA to identify areas of shared concern relating to international students' safety in New Zealand. It also aimed to explore the potential for government agencies, education providers, and Police to develop nationally coordinated approaches to protecting international students.

The Ministry has been presented with some recommendations on further work in this area. I understand one of the members of the group will be speaking to you later in the conference. This is important work and solutions are not easy. I would welcome further suggestions from the sector on this issue. I will be considering a range of pastoral care issues when we assess the need for changes to pastoral care policy and the Code once the final report of the Code Evaluation has been received.

I believe that New Zealand can both meet demand and be a premier provider of international education. New Zealand can also be a provider of international education with an excellent quality of pastoral care and a warm, welcoming environment.

At the same time we do not want a straitjacket or a complex web of unhelpful rules or obligations on providers. Getting the balance right involves an ongoing dialogue between the sector and the government. This is a dialogue that has already been useful and the government looks forward to ongoing fruitful discussions.

Thank you.


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