The Beyond The Economic report, which compiles research from destinations including Australia, the US, UK and Canada and contextualises it to New Zealand through case studies, found that among the broader benefits of international education, hosting students from overseas established diplomatic relationships around the world.
“Diplomacy has evolved in recent times from a state-based approach, focused on professional diplomats,” the report observes.
“Our kids tend to be a bit insular in NZ, and the further away from Auckland… the more insular communities tend to be”
“Higher educational organisations channel the flow and exchange of people, knowledge and expertise, innovation, economy and culture, with the potential to foster mutual understanding and contribute to a nation’s foreign policy agenda.”
According to New Zealand’s ambassador to Brazil, Caroline Bilkey, who contributed to the case study on soft diplomacy and trade, the country’s relatively small economic position meant that it needed to use other subtle forms of influence.
“New Zealand is particularly reliant on soft diplomacy and the goodwill that countries have towards us to achieve our objectives,” she said.
“Not only is [international education] a great conversation warmer, but it also means you are more likely to be given the benefit of the doubt, and the person may be more willing to advocate your issue with their superiors, because they know and like New Zealand having studied there.”
The report, which was conducted by Research New Zealand, also highlighted the industry’s contribution to tourism, innovation and culture.
“The report confirmed that the broader benefits of international education can include introducing innovation to workplaces, developing entrepreneurial ventures, filling specialist domestic skills shortages and helping to build New Zealand’s global linkages,” said ENZ chief executive Grant McPherson.
“They also include community-based and cultural benefits as well as education benefits resulting from the presence of international students in our schools and campuses and in our communities generally and their families who come to visit.”
In one case study, international students were also observed to provide a window to the world for the regional population and those who were unlikely to travel due to expense or long travel times – travelling to the UK regularly takes more than 30 hours from Auckland.
“NZ is particularly reliant on soft diplomacy and the goodwill that countries have towards us to achieve our objectives”
“If you talk to a German kid, they’ve been to a dozen different countries,” said Andy Wood, principal of James Hargest College in Invercargill near the southern tip of New Zealand’s South Island.
“Our kids tend to be a bit insular in New Zealand, and the further away from Auckland, Wellington, and maybe Christchurch, you go, the more insular communities tend to be.”
In the report, he added that international students were “enhancing the quality of education for the college’s domestic students, by bringing them into direct contact with students from other countries.”
Speaking with The PIE News, Universities New Zealand chief executive Chris Whelan agreed with the report’s findings.
“International students add vibrancy to both campus culture and the wider community,” he said.
“A number of our best-known researchers, nationally and internationally, began here as students – applying their intellects to the needs of New Zealand and its people.
“They too are contributing in areas as diverse as leading the national Kakapo recovery program, developing cutting-edge medical equipment for sale around the world, and leading world-class earthquake resilience and recovery research.”
International education is New Zealand’s fourth largest export industry, contributing an estimated $4.4bn to the economy last year.