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New Zealand consulting on international education as a national priority

Policy makers in New Zealand are looking to be proactive in using the disruption to the international education sector as a result of Covid-19 to orchestrate a fundamental reset.

The top five ANZSCO Skill level 1 roles international graduates are in include Accountants, Early Childhood Teachers, Sales and Marketing Managers, Software Engineers and Developer Programmers. Photo: pexels

The draft policy statement intended to promote global citizenship, alongside supporting opportunities for New Zealand ākonga/students to study abroad

The pandemic has forced a recent Alert Level 4 until August 20 across the country while lockdown restrictions in Auckland will remain in place until at least August 31, following an outbreak of 148 positive cases in the country.

New Zealand has enacted border closures since the start of the pandemic to contain the spread of the virus.

Now, the government has invited consultation for its draft policy statement: High-Value International Education.

According to the country’s department of education, the statement refers to a system that “provides excellent education and ākonga/student experience, targets and attracts ākonga/students in high value markets, and delivers a range of value benefits to New Zealand with minimal risks”.

It’s also intended to promote global citizenship, alongside supporting opportunities for New Zealand ākonga/students to study abroad.

“A transformed sector will be more resilient and diversified than our pre-Covid sector, with an optimal mix of sectors, modes of delivery (both onshore and offshore), and associated products and services,” the draft policy reads.

“The transformed sector will have a focus on the system wide value for New Zealand.”

“It is the impact on the labour market that seems to be driving definitions of value”

Speaking to The PIE, Brett Berquist, director International of the University of Auckland said the institution “appreciates the open and transparent consultation process of government as it attempts to use the Covid-19 crisis to reframe international education to bring the most benefit to NZ and to our international students”.

“While we appreciate the intent of government to minimise risks (especially the sovereign risks) potentially associated with international education, we think they’ve overstated those risks when weighted against the overwhelming benefits of international education,” he added.

“The document lists eight risks to be minimised but it is the impact on the labour market that seems to be driving definitions of value.”

Risks include an over-reliance on international education revenue, compromised quality and reputation of the country’s education system, compromised wellbeing and safety of students, weakened integrity of the immigration system, providers marketing access to the labour market rather than the education experience and international education revenue driving inequities in the domestic education system.

Additionally, it suggests there could be pressures on teacher supply and education capacity, as well as on housing and infrastructure, and labour market impacts.

Berquist said that contrary to the belief that most international graduates end up in low skilled jobs and that many degree courses are not serving their intended purpose, the data pointed to a different reality.

“For every one degree-qualified international student whose job title suggests they could be under-employed there are nearly 10 other degree-qualified international students who have job titles that fall under ANZSCO skill level 1, suggesting they are in degree-level skilled employment.”

New Zealand’s International Education Strategy 2018-2030 lays out a clear direction for international education in the country and signals a “move from international education as a revenue generating export industry, to one that focuses on quality of education, and higher value markets”.

The strategy has laid out a vision for ‘a thriving and globally connected New Zealand through world-class education’.

The proposed benefits to New Zealand include increased revenue through international student fee and spending; longer term benefits from research and innovation partnerships and workforce contributions; benefits to domestic education system through relationships and funding; enhancing cultural competence and global citizenship among New Zealanders; and towards building stronger ties with other partner countries and being a force multiplier for New Zealand’s international diplomacy and trade efforts.

For New Zealand’s policy makers, success in this endeavour will mean that the higher education sector in the country would become more resilient and diversified.

Additionally, it will attract highly competent students; enhance New Zealand’s excellence and capability in key sectors; and on the whole enrich the country, its economy, its society, and its international diplomacy by providing a whole of system set of benefits.

“It is good that the New Zealand government is trying to explicitly identify the types of international education likely to generate the most value in future for both students and the country,” Chris Whelan, chief executive of Universities New Zealand, said.

“It does not consider value from the perspective of providers”

“The draft policy statement is a good start and universities are already committed to the areas of high-value international education it describes and delivering their accompanying benefits to New Zealand.

“But further work on the statement is needed. At present, it only considers value from the perspective of international students and New Zealand as a country. It does not consider value from the perspective of providers – what forms of international education are they willing to invest time and money in supporting and why?”

The government has given stakeholders until September 3 to give structured feedback on the draft policy statement and has also organised online workshops for all interested, giving everyone a chance to have their say.

The social license for international education in New Zealand, it seems, would be an all inclusive one, for this important national priority.

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