New Zealand, with a population of just 4.4 million, may be best known for its wine, sheep and spectacular scenery, but as highlighted recently by the NY Times, it is increasingly seeking to present itself as an affordable, high-quality alternative to traditional education destinations like the United States, Britain and Australia.
With international education now New Zealand’s fifth biggest export, annually worth NZ $2.5 billion (US$2 billion), the government wants to double the sector’s economic value in the next 15 years. The expansion is seen as a way to increase university revenue, internationalise the institutions and bolster the ranks of the country’s skilled work force.
But the country faces stiff competition from its nearest neighbor, Australia, which has long been a favoured destination for international students.
New Zealand by the numbers
To help New Zealand’s universities better compete, the government has embarked on a multipronged approach in recent years, from reducing fees for international Ph.D. students to opening more visa offices in Asia.
Nearly 100,000 international students were enrolled in New Zealand universities, private colleges and schools in 2010. This tally included 19,678 international students in universities, a figure the government has projected could rise to 50,000 by 2025.
Last year, the government established the Education New Zealand agency and allocated an additional NZ $10 million to its international education promotions budget.
Last September, the government outlined goals to be achieved by 2025, including doubling the number of international postgraduate students to 20,000; increasing the transition rate from study to residence for international graduates; and increasing the number of offshore international students from 3,000 to 10,000.
The latest trends in international student numbers (Export Education Levy data for 2011) has just been released by the Ministry of Education and shows that the industry is in good shape to meet its 2025 targets.
For 2011, international student numbers increased by 6% throughout most regions in New Zealand and income from tuition revenues rose by 3.3% reaching NZ $732 million.
In addition, there was an increase in student numbers from some key regions including China (8.5% increase in 2011), India (6.4% increase) and Saudi Arabia (4% increase). Although there was a drop in Canterbury of 37%, numbers were stable overall with only a minor decrease of 0.5% (98,930 for 2011 as opposed to 99,446 for 2010).
Steven Joyce, Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment, explained that the government is providing NZ $5 million in funding over the next four years to help sustainable growth in the Christchurch region.
Students enticed to stay on after graduation
Derek McCormack, chairman of the international policy committee for Universities New Zealand, which represents the country’s eight universities, said the arguments for attracting more international students were “mainly financial.”
McCormack said that compared with Australia, New Zealand was under-performing in the international market and that there were concerns that other major participants, like the United States, were bolstering their marketing.
“Thus there is a view that as the competition heats up, New Zealand needs to coordinate its efforts to strengthen its international profile and be much more aggressive in marketing and recruitment, even just to maintain its position,” he said in an e-mail.
With more New Zealanders moving abroad and the nation’s population aging, the government also sees international students as an opportunity to strengthen its skilled work force.
The government entices students to stay on after they graduate by offering a one-year graduate job search visa. If the students finds a job relevant to their qualification, they are then eligible to apply for a graduate work experience visa for up to three years.
McCormack, who is also the vice chancellor of Auckland University of Technology, where full-time international student numbers have increased from 800 to 2,400, from 2003 to 2011, said one-fifth of international students now go on to become New Zealand residents.
Additionally, New Zealand has charged doctorate students the same fees as their domestic counterparts since 2005, a policy that has resulted in the number of international Ph.D. students growing by more than 300% from 2005 to almost 2,800 students in 2010, according to a report by Universities New Zealand.
Top sending markets
The immigration department is making it easier for students (particularly in India and China) to apply for visas. It opened an office in Mumbai last year and established visa application centres in Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Grant McPherson, the chief executive of Education New Zealand, said China, Japan and South Korea were New Zealand’s top markets for international students. “They all have potential to grow,” he said in an interview.
He said the agency was considering which countries to focus on for future growth, with Indonesia, India and Vietnam identified as potential growth markets. “We’re at the moment looking at our ASEAN strategy,” McPherson said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has 10 members. “If you look at all of those markets the potential is incredibly high.”
Victoria University of Wellington has been one of the more active movers in the international market, with 3,000 of its 22,000 students coming from more than 100 countries. That figure includes about 100 Vietnamese students who study at its Ho Chi Minh campus.
The university’s international student numbers rose by 9% in 2011 and 8% in 2010, said Rob Rabel, pro vice chancellor (international). “We’ve seen in the past couple of years sustained growth,” he said.
The largest group of international students at Victoria University last year came from China, followed by the United States, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Rabel said the Ho Chi Minh campus had led to a sustained flow of Vietnamese students to Victoria’s New Zealand campuses. “It’s really helped us in terms of profile in Vietnam and helped us establish a toe-hold,” he said.
Like all New Zealand universities, Victoria University charges international students much higher fees than domestic students — NZ $22,000 to NZ $24,000 a year for undergraduates, compared with NZ $4,000 to NZ $5,000 for domestic students — and Rabel said the revenue from international student fees had become critical to the university’s budget.
Getting New Zealand on the radar
With Australia suffering a recent drop in international student numbers because of factors like a stronger currency and a number of violent attacks on Indian students in 2009, it could be an opportune time for New Zealand.
“New Zealand might pick up some of the losses that Australia has experienced,” said McCormack, the Universities New Zealand official. “However, Australia is a class act in the international education market from whom New Zealand could learn much.”
For now, it is about trying to sell New Zealand to the world’s students. Both the government and universities are at pains to point out that New Zealand offers more than just affordability, but also a high quality education, with five of the country’s eight universities in the world’s top 500 in the Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings.
McPherson said part of the challenge was ensuring that students had New Zealand on their list of options. “There’s a raft of students that haven’t even thought of New Zealand as a potential destination for them. Part of it is the building of that awareness,” he said.
Agent-educator events such as the annual ANZA Workshop, held earlier this year in New Zealand, provide just the sort of platform for New Zealand schools to showcase their offerings to hundreds of agents from around the world. Clearly, the Kiwis are eager to stake their claim in international education.