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NZ universities must start thinking global

Last updated 08:57 30/12/2011


Educational institutions will have to be smart and flexible if they are to achieve the Government's goal of doubling earnings from overseas students over the next 15 years, writes Victoria University vice-chancellor Pat Walsh.

The Government has set the education sector the ambitious goal of doubling what the country earns from international education over the coming 15 years. Although this is a sector-wide mission, our universities must play a leading role.

With global competition intensifying for students, staff and reputation, however, simply marketing ourselves from afar will not work. If we are to be truly successful, we need to look beyond the number of student arrivals and continue our efforts to become truly internationally engaged institutions.

Universities are inherently international places. For the first half of Victoria's 112-year existence, academic staff were sourced almost exclusively from overseas. This changed markedly post-war but, even today, around half our staff come from overseas, placing Victoria among the top-20 most internationally diverse universities in the world. The focus of the last decade switched to attracting international students, with numbers jumping from roughly 800 at the turn of the millennium to almost 3000 today.


International students undeniably bring much-needed revenue, which is exactly why it has become such a saturated market. For a few brief years in the previous decade, when a low dollar and Australia's restrictive visa regime converged to deliver New Zealand a boom in Chinese students, it looked tantalisingly simple.

Now, up against higher-profile, less distant and often better- resourced destinations throughout the English-speaking world - not least our trans-Tasman neighbours - we need to provide students with compelling reasons to come here. I believe we can, but it requires real substance behind the sales pitch.

International students must receive an education that is authentic (the New Zealand dimension if you like) but also prepares them for professional careers wherever in the world they land after graduating. Realistically, for most, that will not be New Zealand.

At the same time, we need to maximise the international opportunities available to all our students. Alongside the growing list of exchange programmes offering our staff and students the chance to research, teach and learn overseas, we are seeking innovative ways to expand our students' horizons in New Zealand.

Victoria's international leadership programme, for example, takes advantage of our capital-city location to expose its students to parliamentarians, the diplomatic community, and a range of internationally focused organisations.

Another important component of boosting international profile and graduate career prospects is submitting our professional programmes to the scrutiny of international accreditation.

This led Victoria's Faculty of Commerce and Administration to seek accreditation from three prestigious and globally recognised agencies (AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA), a painstaking but ultimately successful process that placed the faculty among a globally select group and promises to attract students and employers alike.

The internationalisation strategies we follow cannot be limited to attracting international students. Among the Government's targets is a more than three-fold increase in the number of international students enrolled with New Zealand providers overseas.

The university sector will have to think creatively if it is to contribute meaningfully to achieving this goal. New Zealand universities' rich array of international joint programmes is a good foundation on which to build, but we will also need to carefully consider overseas capital investment.

Victoria's joint programme campus in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, provides a successful model for how this can be done in terms of providing high-quality but affordable pathways to study in New Zealand.

Several-hundred Vietnamese students have studied at our campus before transferring to complete their degree studies in Wellington. While such ventures boost the profile of New Zealand international education, overseas investment like this comes with substantial costs.

Just as New Zealand's other exporters must choose their markets, so too must our universities. Deploying our resources indiscriminately risks not being noticed anywhere. The alternative is developing distinct niches in countries with shared history and long-term potential for growth.

Victoria, for example, has paid particular attention to Southeast Asia, where it has been able to build on New Zealand's earlier capacity-building efforts. We also have long-standing and productive ties in China, but have to be realistic about how we achieve visibility in that vast market.

The strategic relationships we have concentrated on - in China, Vietnam, Malaysia and, most recently, Indonesia - have required us to show we are a serious long- term partner with much to offer.

Each and every relationship has involved ongoing multilevel engagement and close attention to the diverse academic needs of students from these countries.

International connectedness brings a multitude of benefits and, in today's increasingly global environment, is a prerequisite for any university aspiring to the top echelons. It is not just about bringing the world to New Zealand, but also taking what is unique about New Zealand to the world and promoting an international outlook among all our students.

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James   #9   09:45 pm Dec 31 2011

If NZ wants to entice more international students to their universities, they need to start at the beginning of the process -- by training NZ immigration officials overseas to be more personable and helpful in the visa process. My wife and I went through several months of run-around and frustration before our visas were approved by NZ immigration. For my five-year program here in NZ I estimate we are contributing approximately $NZD 1 million to the economy between tuition and living expenses. That very nearly didn't happen due to our frustration with immigration. If the goal is more international students, make sure the word gets to all offices of government.

Robert   #8   07:55 pm Dec 31 2011

And before I forget. Vic Law runs separate classes for foreign students due to language and cultural differences. Guess if I wanted a Law degree and was prepared to be dummied down, this would be the stream to enroll in if they let in us natives.

Robert   #7   07:51 pm Dec 31 2011

Doing my degree at Victoria mid-1990s we had an assignment to review the work of the International Students Department or whatever it was called at the time. The students under their care were treated like Kiwi's. They were neglected and received no pastoral care that was initially promised. The staff even complained about the lack of resources the University provided to do their job. In short, it was about bums on seats and money in the bank. Will anything change?

Al   #6   07:42 pm Dec 31 2011

I once sat in a class with a foreign student was about to graduate upon completing the paper. He contacted me a year later asking if I could give him a job. On the time I first meet him, I was polite. I continued to be polite; his spoken English as so bad I couldn't understand him, and he was an Accounting graduate. At one level, this is what cheque book education with produce never mind the fact that some Kiwi students graduate still being unable to write correctly.

falstaff   #5   07:43 am Dec 31 2011

Was this written by the Vice-Chancellor of a university or was it written by a PR person? To use so many words to say so little really indicates a 'world class' poverty of ideas. Universities do need to 'go global' in the 21st century but in order to do that they need to join the 21st century. For example, what is the proportion of women employed in the Victoria University professoriate? How many Maori? How many Pacific professors does the university have? And, how appealing to an international student body is the current monocultural, inward-looking, little grey bastion of old boy privilege that makes up the University senior management?

A wee dollop of T.S Eliot might not go astray here... "We are the hollow men We are the stuffed men Leaning together Headpiece filled with straw. Alas! Our dried voices, when We whisper together Are quiet and meaningless As wind in dry grass"

Peter 1011   #4   03:37 pm Dec 30 2011

NZ Unis have not done themselves any good by blindly bringing in students from overseas. In particular I am referring to Massey as when I was there the international students were more than a little pissed off with the discrimination. If a student from NZ needs help due to disability they get it free, those from overseas couldn't get the same assistance even if they paid for it. UCOL was no better with poorer treatment to the Non-NZ student. Worse yet is the accommodation we have here because it is VERY third world. When I was in China in the middle of winter even the entry-ways of the buildings were 18 degrees C. All buildings there are so much warmer than here with our student accommodation colder than fridges. Of course all this has been well discussed in China and was partly to blame for the dramatic drop in international student enrollments at Massey in the mid 2000's. Then there were the murders and kidnapping of students, all bad looks. Enrollments were also another issue where prospective students half way through the process were told to ring back because some knob decided there was a time limit on each incoming call - probably something to do with efficiency not good service. This article is typical of their treatment - a cash cow, not people.

tamirvine   #3   03:22 pm Dec 30 2011

As Pat Walsh knows, the best way to increase profits from NZ universities is to run them more like a business. In view of this we need to look at the product. Seeing as the client base is primarily from corrupt despotic South East Asia and China it makes sense that the best way to maximize the appeal of the product (university papers) is to get rid of courses that focus on questioning societies political and ethical values. To this end we need to cull even more of our political papers and to invest more in marketing and management type papers. These are ideal as they require little investment, thought and skepticism and yield plenty of lovely shiny looking degrees.

annie   #2   10:29 am Dec 30 2011

and how much did Victoria university pay for this peice of self serving marketing, or is it just holiday trash published because all the reall reporters are on holiday?

Geoff   #1   10:16 am Dec 30 2011

New Zealand hopes to imitate the revenue stream Australian universities have enjoyed for so long -- just as the market is becoming more complicated and competitive because the US is turning more aggressive in recruiting foreign students (good timing us as always). But let's not kid ourselves: this is about paying for universities without raising tuition (which is amazingly low in New Zealand, and that's a good thing) or shifting more tax revenues to universities (unpopular in an anti-intellectual country). If we really want to compete with Oz,and to extract more than dollars from our ourseas students, we should make it easier for anyone with an honours degree or a postgraduate degree to remain and work in NZ (this is the biggest flaw in the Australian system).

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