June 26, 2024

New Zealand will double down on efforts to encourage its citizens to study overseas, as the country’s international education sector strives to “come back even better” from protracted border closures.

The industry has been given the task of “developing global citizens” in a “refreshed” international education strategy which has been released for consultation. While the immediate focus is to help universities, colleges and schools “rebuild their bases” for onshore educational delivery, the broader aim is to “build a new future” emphasising diversity and resilience.

Overseas students will be targeted for qualities other than money. Recruitment will be about lifting standards at universities – “and, where relevant, meeting skill needs in our labour market” – as well as providing revenue.

Education minister Chris Hipkins said the industry was “in a very different space” from 2018, when the original strategy was released. “We want to work with the sector to build a new future, focused on the delivery of more high-value and innovative international education offerings for domestic and international students – onshore, offshore, in person and online,” he said.

Scholarships for outward-bound New Zealanders will be rejigged to encourage more Kiwis to study abroad. “We want to produce global citizens who are well equipped for the world in which they will be living and working,” the draft strategy says. “Global citizenship must be based on knowing who we are, what we stand for and where we sit in the world.”

Exchange with Pacific neighbours, and mobility involving New Zealanders of Māori and Pacific heritage, will particularly be fostered. “We are committed to actively exploring how to enhance our connections with education systems in the Pacific, and what we can learn from these systems to create opportunities for Pacific students in New Zealand and the wider Pacific region,” the strategy says.

New Zealand’s focus on outward mobility predates Covid. Scholarships supporting short-term study in Asia and Latin America, introduced in 2013, proved popular before Covid temporarily stopped travel. Government agency Education New Zealand (ENZ), which administers the scholarships, said it had been “oversubscribed” since applications reopened in March.

Institutions have also developed partnerships to facilitate their own educational exchanges. “Six or seven years ago, very few universities or polytechnics had international student exchange programmes,” said ENZ chief executive Grant McPherson. “Now, they all have them.”

But the draft strategy acknowledges possible qualms around foreign travel “while the global situation remains uncertain”. It says some students “may not want to travel as often or for as long”, while others may “reduce their air travel because of the impact…on climate change”.

The restoration of vitally needed onshore enrolments poses particular challenges, Mr McPherson conceded. “We are working very hard with institutions to make sure that it doesn’t become desperate, because desperation can lead to some bad decisions.

“The sector needs to rebuild its own capability,” he added. “People have moved on to different jobs. Some…providers have gone into hibernation or closed.”

But he said Covid had aroused interest in approaches previously foreign to New Zealand, including offshore campuses and online education. “We’ve seen much more interest from the institutions in pulling those things together.

“The short term…is going to be around how we make New Zealand a very good education destination. But second is how we get New Zealand education out into the world [for] those who may never get to our country.”

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