Export Education in New Zealand: A Strategic Approach to Developing the Sector - An Overview

Publication Details

This overview provides a summary of the key points contained in the Ministry of Education's report 'Export Education in New Zealand: A Strategic Approach to Developing the Sector. The report is the result of research, analysis, and consultation with the sector. It examines the challenges facing New Zealand’s export education sector, and identifies initiatives that will support its sustainable development.

Author(s): International Division

Date Published: 28 June 2006

International trends

Over the last few decades, international education experience has become increasingly commonplace. Nearly two million tertiary students worldwide are involved in formal education outside their own country. This figure is likely to reach 5 million over the next 20 years. Increasingly students are also involved in forms of international education delivered by foreign providers in their own country, such as offshore campuses and distance education.

An ever-increasing number of institutions and countries are participating in a global education market characterised by:

  • steadily increasing mobility of students and staff
  • intensifying competition between institutions and countries
  • greater focus on the strategic benefits of engagement in international education
  • more complex and interdependent institutional arrangements
  • more diverse forms of delivery
  • internationalisation of the curriculum
  • reform of programme structures, credit systems and recognition agreements to support mobility
  • greater attention to institutional and professional development and support issues
  • increasing diversity of students participating in international education
  • greater - although still limited - awareness of equity issues in international education.

New Zealand and export education

Prior to the late 1980s, New Zealand hosted international students on a less than full cost-recovery basis. Empowered by new provisions within the 1989 Education Act, tertiary institutions, and subsequently schools, have set about actively recruiting full fee-paying students from overseas.

Since 1990 there has been rapid but fluctuating growth in student numbers. In 2000 there were more than 7,000 international students in New Zealand schools, 11,500 in public tertiary institutions, 2,000 in private training establishments, and approximately 18,000 international students in our language schools. Although there are relatively small numbers of international students in New Zealand's tertiary institutions, these students comprise a similar proportion of the total tertiary roll as they do in countries such as the USA and Canada.

New Zealand's export education providers (currently numbering over 700) have tended to draw on a limited number of markets. For example, in the mid 1990s, Malaysia was a key source of international students in the tertiary sector. More recently, China, and to a lesser extent Korea, have accounted for most of the growth across all sectors.

The presence of international students in different institutions and regions throughout the country is variable. For example, in 2000, 10 percent of secondary schools had over half of all foreign fee-paying students, with a large proportion of these schools being located in higher socio-economic communities. Overall Auckland tends to dominate the export education market.

The regional variation in the location of foreign fee-paying (FFP) students in the school sector is shown in the following chart.


A range of benefits

A successful, sustainable approach to providing education for international students has benefits for individuals, institutions and wider society.

Both domestic and international students benefit from exposure to other cultures and perspectives, enabling them to develop skills to succeed in cross-cultural contexts. Export education initiatives can mean access to courses of study that might not otherwise be available. They can also offer opportunities to develop personal and institutional relationships of long-term value.

Institutions can use the income generated from export education activities to invest in their ongoing development, for example by improving facilities and increasing staffing. Teaching and learning programmes can be enhanced by the participation of international students. Staff benefit from international linkages, and from achieving greater competence in cross-cultural teaching.

The New Zealand economy stands to benefit substantially from planned and managed growth of the export education sector. It will help build the international relationships, skills and knowledge that are vital to New Zealand's future viability in a global economy.

Current estimates are that the export education industry contributed $700 million to the economy in 2000 and has the potential to realise $1 billion per annum within two years. The increase in foreign exchange earnings will advantage not just the education sector but other sectors of the economy that provide services to international students.

Issues and potential risks

A number of challenges and potential risks need to be considered alongside the benefits of an expanded export education industry. Without appropriate policies and careful planning, significant growth could impact adversely on the quality of service for both domestic and international students. In the context of an international market, quality assurance is an important element of New Zealand's reputation as an educational provider.

There are also other issues to consider. These include:

  • the efficiency and effectiveness of an industry characterised by a large number of small providers, with varying levels of experience and expertise
  • the quality of pastoral care provided to potentially vulnerable young people
  • our reliance on a small number of source countries, raising issues relating to diversification and balance in the industry
  • recognition and acceptance of our qualifications by other countries
  • uneven participation in the industry between regions, institutions and communities of varying socio-economic status, raising possible capacity issues since the greatest growth often occurs in locations already facing significant demand from domestic students
  • limited professional and institutional development opportunities
  • a lack of local data and research to help shape policy on international student programmes in New Zealand

Core requirements for a successful and sustainable export education industry

A number of key conditions will enable the export education sector to continue to develop and grow in a way that maximises the benefits and minimises the risks outlined above. These include a need for:

  • ongoing investment in research and development
  • a systematic and supportive approach to professional and institutional development
  • mechanisms for lifting the level of dialogue on international education issues and disseminating relevant information within the sector
  • processes for achieving ongoing improvement in quality standards
  • an onshore policy and regulatory framework that facilitates growth whilst managing risk
  • a framework of bilateral and multilateral agreements and relationships that support qualification recognition, quality assurance across borders, and the mobility of students and teachers
  • initiatives to increase knowledge offshore of our education, qualifications and quality assurance systems
  • mechanisms through which effective, coordinated action and self-managed development can be achieved within the sector.

The vision

A sector delivering sustainable, high quality international education and support services, thereby producing a range of economic, educational and cultural benefits for New Zealand.

A strategic approach to developing the sector

The Government has announced a range of initiatives aimed at improving quality and developing capacity. The initiatives are wide-ranging and flexible, to reflect the different stages of development and diverse needs of institutions, within New Zealand's export education industry.

A number of initiatives are focused on quality improvement and effective management/planning practices amongst institutions that already have large numbers of international students. The challenge for these institutions is to effectively extend their capacity and capabilities while managing any associated risks.

A parallel focus is on increasing participation by schools and smaller tertiary institutions that have capacity but require additional support to successfully participate in the export education market.

There is a strong emphasis on ensuring financial viability and effective business planning across all institutions. The enhancement of skills in these areas will benefit not only the management of international student programmes, but also the overall management of education institutions.

Some initiatives are already under way, such as those relating to the recruitment and pastoral care of younger international students. Developments in this area include the introduction of a mandatory `Code of Practice for Providers who Enrol International Students' and best practice guidelines for host family selection.

There are also initiatives to promote the understanding and recognition of New Zealand's educational and qualifications system overseas. This will involve the dissemination of information and liaison with counterpart ministries and qualification authorities in other countries.

Finally, steps are being taken to strengthen the supply of quality information and expertise on international education available within New Zealand to support the ongoing development of policy in this area.

Key initiatives

The specific initiatives announced in the 2001 Budget are summarised below.

Institutional and professional development

  • Training and advice for school Boards of Trustees on issues relating to participation in international student education.
  • Provision of advice and support for the councils/boards of tertiary institutions
  • Programme management training and provision of resource materials and advice for principals/ programme directors. In schools, development work will flow on from work with Boards. At the tertiary level, delivery will be partly undertaken through a development officer located in the sector
  • Support for staff to help them interpret the curriculum for international students, adapt to alternative teaching and learning styles and enhance their understanding of other education systems. Support will be provided through several methods, including the development of best practice resource materials
  • Development opportunities for staff in cross-cultural communication and the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages

Quality improvement and monitoring

  • A mandatory `Code of Practice for Providers Who Enrol International Students', together with guidelines and best practice advice for home stay providers
  • The provision of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) guidelines and standards for institutions
  • Investigation of the possible introduction of a quality mark approach and related indicators/measures

Data and research

  • Monitoring and reporting of international student achievement and subject choice (nationally through improvements in data capture, analysis and reporting, and locally through provision of advice to institutions on self-monitoring)
  • Measures to encourage research on international education
  • Monitoring and reporting of international student satisfaction, involving regular student surveys

Building recognition of NZ education and qualifications

  • Production of information on the New Zealand education and qualifications systems for dissemination overseas
  • Strengthening of relationships with education ministries, qualification authorities and education providers in market countries to extend their understanding of the New Zealand education system

Building knowledge in the international education sector

  • Improved liaison by government with schools and tertiary institutions regarding international student policies and issues

  • Review and promotion of internationalisation of programmes and systems in education institutions

  • Mechanisms for disseminating international education information within New Zealand

Strategy management and policy development

  • Further development of policy and guidelines on costing and pricing, investment, use of Crown property, offshore programme development and quality assurance
  • Mechanisms for ongoing sector co-ordination between government agencies

Evaluation and success indicators

  • The development of indicators of success for particular initiatives and the strategy as a whole
  • Evaluation of the effectiveness and impact of strategy initiatives, with a particular focus initially on professional and institutional development initiatives and the Code of Practice


    The Government has allocated funding of $1.3 million from Vote Education for initiatives to be implemented in 2001/02. Ministers have signalled that ongoing funding for the development of the sector will need to come from the industry itself and officials will be engaging with the sector about funding for future years.

    Further Information

    The Ministry of Education report Export Education: A Strategic Approach to Developing the Sector is available as a Word Document and PDF. Bound copies are available on request from the International Unit, Ministry of Education, PO Box 1666, Wellington, New Zealand or e-mail international.unit@minedu.govt.nz

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