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Pansy Speak: spin spreads to internat'l education

Pansy Speak

Election spending spin spreads to international education

Labour have turned spending other people's money into an art form. We only have to look at the way they spent $440,000 of taxpayers' money on the pledge card to see that they take this art form very seriously indeed. The signs are that Labour are not going to pay back this money, despite a recent poll that showed 81% of those polled believe they should.

If there's one thing we can be certain of it's that Labour is consistent in how they treat other people's money. At a recent Export Education conference in Auckland, the Tertiary Education Minister, Michael Cullen, announced that $1 million was going to be put into promoting this sector.

The number of students who choose to study in New Zealand peaked in 2001/2002 and has been in steady decline since. This is our fourth largest export earner, contributing more than $4 billion a year. Factors such as NZQA's lapse in monitoring and enforcing standards for accredited institutions, an increase in competition, the New Zealand exchange rate, immigration criteria, lengthy processing time for visas, and the establishment of foreign education institutions in students' home countries have all contributed to the decline in students.

I have no doubt that the sector welcomes the increase in promotional funding - but the source of this funding must be clarified.

The $1 million is funded by the surplus from the Export Education Levy that was established in 2003 and is used for promotion, quality assurance, professional development, and policy, and for indemnity purposes should any provider collapse and students are left in strife.

Any education provider with international students is charged the annual levy of $185 plus 0.45% of tuition fee income. Each year that totals more than $3 million. About 50% is collected from universities, while the rest comes from polytechnics, private education providers, English language schools, and primary and secondary schools. Some education providers on-pass these costs to students or absorb it themselves.

Total levies collected and spent since 2003
2003/04 2004/05 2005/06
Levy $3.63m $3.82m $3.44m
Expense $3.09m $2.83m $2.83m
Surplus $540,000 $990,000 $610,000

Expense wise, $450,000, $710,000 and $1.1 million was spent on promotion in each of these three years - but this increase has come at the expense of promotional development, which was reduced from $750,000 to $250,000, and research, which was reduced from $270,000 to $250,000.

Meanwhile, the total spent on administration is well over $1 million each year.

In 2004/05, the Labour Government announced funding of $15.3 million for five years to support seven overseas education counsellors and their related activities. This brings the total number of staff in the Ministry of Education who deal with international education from 2.5 to 12 full-timers.

The Government is sending a very clear message that it values administration over promotion and research. Those at the Auckland conference were left with the very clear message that this isn't the attitude being taken by our major competitors, Australia and the United Kingdom. Promotional budgets in those countries leave ours in the dust.

The levy has also been spent on branding. The 'New Zealand Educate' concept was unveiled at the conference but it left many asking what about the old one 'New World class'? The Association of Private Providers of English Language are critical of the new brand because they believe it seeks to persuade the market that we are an excellent study destination while ignoring what makes us unique.

Some of the association's members have a long history in the sector, and the Government needs to listen to them. A survey that asked students what influenced them to choose between studying in the UK and Australia found that cost was a major factor when choosing Australia. Those who went to the UK did so because cost wasn't a factor and they were attracted by their long history of tertiary education.

New Zealand has a lot of catching up to do - international education is a competitive and fast changing sector. Both the UK and Australia have acknowledged this, and the fact that job and immigration opportunities are important in attracting international students. In Europe a framework is being developed that will help align qualifications.

It's time for Dr Cullen to address the balance between administration and bureaucracy versus promotion and research - before we miss the boat altogether.

Pansy Wong



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