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50th Anniversary of The Colombo Plan - Speech

Tuesday 7 August 2001

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister


Education New Zealand Trust
Dinner to Mark the Fiftieth Anniversary of
The Colombo Plan

Wellington Town Hall

7.10 pm

Tuesday, 7 August 2001

This evening we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Colombo Plan, an initiative which enabled many young people from Asian countries to receive a higher education overseas.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to speak to a gathering of Colombo Plan alumni in Korea. They had all done their studies in New Zealand and had gone home to become successful in their chosen fields. I learned that among the former Colombo Plan students from New Zealand there had been at least two Ministers, a Vice Minister, and a Member of the National Assembly. Many others had succeeded in education, business, and other walks of life.

That story can be repeated in each Asian country where the Colombo Plan was available. New Zealand is pleased to have been able to play its part and now to celebrate what happened. In October this year a major function is planned for Kuala Lumpur, at which the many Malaysian graduates of the Colombo Plan will come together to recall the years they spent in New Zealand, gaining qualifications which have stood them in good stead in later life.

In Colombo itself, there was a commemoration a month ago. New Zealand was represented by its Honorary Consul, who knew personally some of those who had graduated as dental nurses in New Zealand. They were part of the first group of Colombo Plan students in the early 1950s. People who are old enough to remember have commented on the impression that their colourful saris made in the streets of Wellington.

When the Colombo Plan came into being, the preoccupations of governments were very different from today. Relations between the West and the Soviet Union were becoming icy. Mao Tse Tung's victory over the Nationalists in China in 1949 had caused great anxiety. Western foreign policy makers wondered whether communist regimes would become more widely established in Asia, as they had in Eastern Europe.

The British Government promoted the idea of repeating in Asia the concept of the successful Marshall Plan in Europe, as a way of responding to a perceived threat from the People's Republic of China. A ministerial conference was held in Colombo in 1950, and was attended by the New Zealand Foreign Minister, Mr Doidge. The conference agreed on a scheme to assist with the national development plans for all the countries of South Asia. Outside nations were invited to contribute. A bureau was set up in Colombo in 1951 to co-ordinate the plan. A New Zealander, Hunter Wade, was among its first Directors. He is the only living member of the New Zealand delegation to the original Colombo conference of 1950.

In that era, the concept of providing assistance to the countries of South and South East Asia was new to most New Zealanders. The British Government asked New Zealand to make a major contribution, and we agreed to provide three million pounds, a very large sum in 1951.

In the early days the Plan was used to fund major capital projects. The first one selected for a New Zealand contribution was the All-India Medical Research Institute in Delhi. Our initial funding was one million pounds, and was followed by further contributions in later years.

Under the Colombo Plan New Zealand also became involved in the development of the Indian dairy industry. Milk supply plants were built, and New Zealand's system of co-operatives was adopted as an ideal model. Initially New Zealand milk powder was reconstituted and distributed to the people. At the same time we supplied equipment for training purposes, so that Indian students could obtain qualifications in dairy technology and dairy science. The Indian National Dairy Institute was the main beneficiary of this programme.

In time as a large and self-sustaining Indian dairy industry evolved, so the need for ongoing New Zealand technical assistance diminished. That should be the fate of all well-designed development assistance projects. It is an irony that our own high quality, competitively priced dairy products have been largely shut out of the Indian market over the years. Nevertheless the availability of large quantities of fresh locally made product in India has contributed to the food security of many millions of people.

The Colombo Plan also established a technical co-operation scheme which enabled students from member countries to obtain training overseas. This aspect of the Plan is the most clearly remembered in New Zealand. Over three decades, thousands of students from Asia received higher education here. The Plan made a significant contribution to raising New Zealanders' awareness of our neighbours in Asia.

In those early days New Zealand also assisted with the establishment of educational institutes in Asian countries. Agricultural training facilities sprang up in Malaya and Thailand, technical colleges in Ceylon and Burma (as they were then called), and English language training in Indonesia. The English Language Institute here in Wellington at Victoria University is a product of those early years of the Colombo Plan, and continues to provide a valuable service to the countries of Asia and the Pacific.

After thirty years, the nature of New Zealand's aid delivery changed. The growing number of independent South Pacific states were becoming significant development assistance partners, and our effort was channelled bilaterally and regionally rather than via the Colombo Plan. While we continued to contribute towards the Colombo Plan Secretariat, the Plan itself ceased in the 1980s to be a significant element in our delivery of development assistance resources.

New Zealand today continues to work with current member countries of the Colombo Plan through bilateral and regional aid programmes. Education is still a major emphasis. In the less developed countries, NZODA programmes tend to focus on both education and capacity building. In the more developed of the developing countries, the focus is on education and governance. The types of activities we began under Colombo Plan auspices are still relevant to our aid work.

The programme which began with the English Language Institute at Victoria University continues in the form of the English Language Training for Officials programme. In the past ten years it has trained three hundred and eighty diplomats and officials from Mongolia, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and East Timor. The programme will continue for at least a further two years.

New Zealand's single largest project in Asia is with the Mekong Institute. It is located on the campus of Khon Kaen University, the site of the NZODA assisted agricultural school. Training is provided to officials from the Greater Mekong Sub-region in economics and administrative reform.

Through the Asia 2000 Higher Education Exchange Programme, grants are also provided to New Zealand tertiary institutions to undertake new or established exchange, placement or collaborative research programmes with partner institutions in Asia.

Nowadays the supply of education services internationally has more to do with trade than with aid. Both the sending country and the recipient country benefit from this growing trade in services. New Zealand gains in many ways. Education has become a fast growing service industry of considerable value to our economy. We benefit too from gaining a future constituency of leaders who have had formative experiences in New Zealand and who know us well.

New Zealanders themselves gain from exposure to a diversity of other cultures and the friendships they make. The benefits to New Zealand are spread right around the country – to every city with tertiary education facilities, to every town whose secondary or even primary schools recruit students from overseas.

New Zealand's campuses, education programmes, and students become more internationalised as a result of participation by overseas students. Especially in smaller centres which are less multicultural in their mix of residents, the presence of international students helps domestic students and communities to meet and mix with a wider range of ethnic groups.

While we can overcome our geographical isolation by means of electronic communication, people to people contact is still vital. International education plays an important role in maintaining and developing that aspect of the relationship between countries. It is a long-term investment in good relations with other countries.

In the recent past, the supply of education services represented only a small part of the New Zealand economy. It consisted largely of a few private English language schools and earned us about $50 million per year.

Then, in the late 1980s, trade in education services was opened up. The public sector was encouraged to participate. By the late 1990s, the value of this sector was about $500 million per year.

Some of that rapid initial growth could be attributed to the testimony of friends of New Zealand in countries which had sent Colombo Plan students. That was particularly the case in Professor Othman's home country of Malaysia, which was the main supplier of students to our universities in the Colombo Plan period. Malaysia is no longer a bilateral recipient of New Zealand development assistance, but it still sends students to New Zealand. That early aid programme laid the foundation for an investment for us both.

The Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s halted growth in New Zealand's earnings from education, but it has now rapidly recovered and is estimated to be worth $850 million this year. A figure of $1 billion per year looks achievable by 2003.

Around eighty per cent of our international students come from Asia mainly from Japan, China, the Republic of Korea, and Malaysia. A second tier of contributing countries includes Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, and Indonesia. India and Vietnam are growing source countries too.

There are many providers in this field – secondary schools, polytechnics, colleges of education, English language schools and universities, plus a small number of primary and intermediate schools.

Our host tonight, Education New Zealand, is the organisation presiding over all this activity. It works closely with government agencies to promote New Zealand as a study destination. In travel earlier this year to Japan, Hong Kong, and China I was able to support their promotion of New Zealand as a quality provider of education and a safe and friendly country for overseas students to study in.

Under a Heads of Agreement between Trade New Zealand and Education New Zealand, promotion work is carried out in market countries. This includes fairs, agents' seminars, missions, advertising, inbound agents' and media visits, and publications in English and other languages.

I am pleased to say that our government is an active partner in the process, having provided $3.8 million over four years to assist in the development of a brand for New Zealand international education. The brand has now been developed as:

The New World Class, Educated in New Zealand

The government has also provided funding through the Ministry of Education to develop a strategy for improving the capacity and capability of New Zealand institutions to take overseas students.

The Education Amendment Bill No 2 currently before Parliament provides for a compulsory Code of Practice to ensure the quality of services provided to international students.

Let me conclude by saying that the process which began fifty years ago with the Colombo Plan continues in various forms to this day. Assistance to students from developing countries is still available under NZODA programmes. Also, increasingly, emphasis is being placed on assistance with the development of basic education in Asia and the Pacific.

Places for private overseas students are available in many fields. New Zealand welcomes international students and is determined to ensure that their study experience with us is both enjoyable and of high quality.

Later this year, a publication commemorating New Zealand's involvement in the Colombo Plan will be released. I hope that the publication will provide a lasting record of the fiftieth anniversary and be a useful addition to the scarce literature on New Zealand's involvement in the Plan.


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