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NZ’s two-way education relationship with China

Commentary

By Grant McPherson, Education New Zealand Chief Executive

The Government has set ambitious targets for New Zealand’s international education industry, with our two-way education relationship with China at the forefront.

The industry’s key objective is to double its annual economic value to NZ$5.5 billion by 2025. Ultimately the task of realising this goal lies with industry, with Education New Zealand (ENZ) leading the promotion of the New Zealand education experience around the world.

We bring together the government-funded representation and promotion efforts previously undertaken by the Ministry of Education, the Education New Zealand Trust and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. Our first anniversary is next month.

China inevitably figures prominently in the international education industry’s aspirations and plans. It has been identified as a priority market by ENZ.

Chinese students represent the largest group of international students studying in New Zealand. Around 23,000 studied here in 2011, nearly a quarter of the total number of international students.

Last year saw 8.5 percent growth in the market - the first substantive growth in nearly a decade. Chinese students are represented across the sector, with many enrolled in our private training establishments, followed by universities, Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs) and schools.

Looking at tuition fee income only ( i.e., excluding money spent on living and other expenses), in 2011 Chinese students paid $269 million to study in New Zealand, 37 percent of total international fee income of $732 million, and up 12 percent year-on-year.

On this conservative basis, education is New Zealand’s sixth largest export to China after seafood (NZ$281 million).

ENZ is putting into action a strategy for China. This strategy includes plans to undertake detailed market research to survey our providers and education businesses to see how we can best support them and to overhaul how we market New Zealand as a study destination.

We are taking a collaborative approach.

There’s been a lot of talk about this in the past, but we see purposeful partnerships as an opportunity to add real value.

A starting point for us is a comprehensive survey of institutions, education providers and consultants to improve our understanding of the industry’s growth plans and challenges. The results, along with information from other direct industry engagements, will give us a solid grounding for planning.

One thing we want to emphasise is that our education relationship with China is two way.

As well as Chinese students in New Zealand market, New Zealand providers are active in China.

Our universities and ITPs have deep and active relationships, some stretching back several decades. There are around 20 joint programmes and examples of cooperation in various types of training and professional development.

There has been increased interest from the non-tertiary sector, too, including in early childhood education. What we would like to see – and what we need to see, to achieve the Government’s goals for international education as a sector – is more offshore delivery, and more edu-business and consulting activity.

There is a great deal of opportunity in China, but like in most commercial endeavours converting opportunity to successful outcome is no easy task. The operating and regulatory environment is tough. Relationships are hugely important. Education providers and businesses must be prepared to put in the hard yards and remember that time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted. ENZ is ready to provide support and advice.

Any successful, sustainable relationship must be complementary. In the case of international education New Zealand is ranked as one of the best education systems in the world; China is in the early years of a massive national education reform and development plan and needs our expertise in areas such as teacher and administrator training, development and curriculum development.

We need to be careful to ensure that this complementary relationship is a balanced one. Here we have much more to do.

There are not enough New Zealand students going to China to study. More must do so and Chinese universities are increasingly offering whole qualifications taught in English. More New Zealand students need to study Mandarin. Helping facilitate this is an area of work for ENZ.

People-to-people links are not often given the recognition they deserve. Every Chinese student who studies in New Zealand becomes a possible ambassador for our country. They are also possible “New Zealand educated” employees in New Zealand companies in China, or a China-savvy employee for onshore businesses involved with China.

Familiarity with China – “China literacy” – is fundamental to New Zealand’s long-term interests. China is not going to cease being important – to us and to the world – anytime soon.

To contribute to China Now and share information with our audience in both NZ and China please contact Luke Qin at luke.qin@nzcta.co.nz