Staging a Comeback: International Students in New Zealand

December 2, 2008

This second-to-last country profile on international students explores New Zealand. I describe the sharp decline in international students that New Zealand saw and explore the remedies they are applying to improve the situation.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, international students chose New Zealand in increasing numbers. After a peak of 121,190 students in 2003, the total number fell 25% to 91,301. The closure of two major schools and a reputation of poor service was apparently to blame.

New Zealand’s International Education Appeal Authority reports that the majority of complaints that it receives are about private training establishments. The most common issues raised relate to fair financial practices and full and timely disclosure of information.

A Ministry of Education report shows that an increase in the number of complaints corresponds to the decline in students. While not proving anything, this is a fairly strong indication that worsening service was being reported in students’ home countries—resulting in decreased interest.

As a result, schools (private training enterprises especially) have been receiving increased scrutiny. One private school principal reports that private schools now understand the rules more clearly and suggests the government shift its attention now to public schools.

Stronger marketing practices coincide with this government effort and initial results seem to be good. A group of administrators and researchers are meeting to discuss how best to market the country and promote more integration of international students. First-time visas—a fairly reliable indicator of growth—have increased significantly. Some schools are reporting a shift away from English language study towards content area study in English, and reporting success. There could be some good years ahead for New Zealand. Time will tell, and I’ll report it here.
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International Education in Australia (more valuable than tourism)

November 25, 2008

This post continues the series on international students with an investigation into Australia. I lay out the current situation in terms of enrollment and dollars. Then, I report on the government’s attempts to crack down on unscrupulous schools. This is followed by the results of a study on the academic strength of international students at major research universities.

How many? How much?
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, international students brought AUD 13.7 billion (USD 8.9 billion)—outstripping tourism by a full AUD $1.7 billion. This huge contribution comes mostly from higher education (63%), but vocational schools (18%) are experiencing huge growth. The fees paid by international students make up, on average, 15% of college budgets.

One reason that has been cited for this extraordinary growth is the Australian dollar. The AUD has fallen agains the USD, making study in Australia more affordable than study in the U.S. In addition, the Indian Rupee has fallen sharply against the USD, but has risen against the AUD, making Australia particularly attractive to Indian students.

Some Schools Taking Advantage of Students
The demand among international students for vocational education has skyrocketed, leading to a dramatic increase in the number of trade colleges. In addition to reputable schools helping educate students, there is a growing number of institutions who, according to The Age, engage in cash-for-certificate schemes. In October, the Australian government closed one such college and put another 40 on suspension. The sheer number of institutions, however, make enforcing existing rules difficult. The Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority, for example, admits the existence of “dodgy providers” and cites lack of staff and resources as a reason more are not sanctioned. Finally, at the end of October, the Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, announced his intention to toughen rules on student agencies that are also exploiting students with visa promises and descriptions of Australia that are simply untrue.

Major Universities Defend Themselves
The abuse of the Australian system by some institutions and college dependence on their fees have made all international students an easy target for criticism. To counter the claim that international students are recruited only as sources of money, a group of major research universities conducted a study on the academic performance of their international students.

The results show that international students at these universities are completing their coursework with the same degree of success as native Australians. These are powerful data, because they show that the most prestigous Australian universities are keeping their standards high and are recruiting based on academic merit, not financial clout.
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