Presentation at the Global Knowledge Economy Seminar organised by the Postgraduate Students’ Association held at the University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand, on 15 October 2018
My topic today was New Zealand’s fourth largest export industry in 2016, then valued at more than $4 billion dollars, and supported more than 30 thousand jobs across the country. International education is big business for New Zealand, as it is for the traditional players – the English-speaking nations of the US, Canada, UK, and Australia.
The recent International Education Strategy released by the Ministry of Education has declared is aspirations for international education to be the vehicle for global citizenship. But I do wonder whether the forces of global currency overwhelm such lofty, but certainly important goals.
First, let’s think about why international students come to New Zealand. While the perceived high quality of educational offerings is one factor, research suggests that the stronger factors are:
- that New Zealand is overall a more affordable destination, and
- New Zealand’s reputation as clean, green, and safe.
Next, let’s consider what international education contributes to New Zealand. As I mentioned earlier, international education is an export sector, meaning, education is treated as a form of goods and services.
Looking at the 2016 stats, there were about 130 thousand international students enrolled in schools, language centres, private institutions, the polytechnics, and universities.
Half of the international students hail from China and India, both emerging middle-income countries and engines of global growth.
Universities take the largest share, hosting a fifth of the international student population, and receiving almost 40% of the tuition income.
This thin slice of statistics reflects what keeps the sector humming along. The sellers – educational institutions – desire income and profit, and the buyers – Asian students – want decent qualifications from an English-speaking country.
You might think that I’ve painted a rather crude picture of international education, but I’ve yet to meet someone who has attributed the $4 billion dollar figure to the desire for world peace.
But even if world peace is not at the forefront or the producers and consumers’ minds, it doesn’t mean that international education is only worth in terms of dollars and cents. It is, after all, not a sector that deals with milk powder or premium beef, but a sector that is capable of transforming lives of all students, the educators, and the community.
The University of Waikato, for example, hosts many nationalities among its students. As an international student myself, I feel privileged to be able to interact with my peers from Vietnam, India, China, Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Tanzania, Nigeria, Vanuatu , Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Timor Leste. I enjoy learning about their different histories and social customs.
I am beginning to build a global network of friends and colleagues. And while I cannot promise there will be world peace, I can say that I have grown to be more sensitive and appreciative of the different, and at times, conflicting, geopolitics across the world stage. In other words, I am learning how to be a global citizen. I’m not sure whether my Kiwi peers have the same experience, or feel the same way. But the research suggests that they are probably ambivalent or indifferent.
Perhaps Prime Minister Jacinda Arden could offer all of us some inspiration to become more globally minded and action-oriented. In her speech to the United Nations General Assembly, she said, and I quote:
“Given the challenges we face today, and how truly global they are in their nature and impact, the need for collective action and multilateralism has never been clearer.”
PM Arden was talking about climate change. I think the same applies to international education.
The value of international education must not remain solely at the level of trade. It has the enormous potential to build bridges across cultural and political divides. My conclusion is for you to take the first step in making it happen.