Foreign students go on to become life-long informal NZ ambassadors benefitting the country’s trade and diplomacy efforts, writes the University of Auckland’s Brett Berquist

As the country’s largest single destination for international students, the University of Auckland has a day-to-day insight into the contribution these students make to our own campuses and the communities and businesses around us.

The 7426 attending the university enrich our lecture rooms and labs, which means New Zealand students study in international environments, and both New Zealand and international students acquire global skills and cultural awareness in preparation for the workplace.

It is usual for overseas students to explore the country while they are here, joined frequently by their families and therefore contributing to New Zealand’s top export, tourism.

Many of these international students choose to stay in New Zealand taking their skills, cultural and language knowledge and offshore connections into local businesses and supporting their expansion into overseas markets.  Ministry of Education research shows a quarter of the international students who have studied for a PhD at a New Zealand university will still be here five years after completion.

And it is our experience, as we engage with University of Auckland alumni abroad in cities as diverse as San Francisco, Beijing, Shanghai and London, that these former students have become life-long informal New Zealand ambassadors benefitting the country’s trade and diplomacy efforts.

Our experience is not unique. A recent report from Education NZ Beyond the Economic – How International Education Delivers Broad Value for New Zealand showcases the contribution made by the more than 130,000 international students who are studying here each year.

They reach into the lives of New Zealanders across the country. The report highlights the experience of Invercargill’s James Hargest College teacher Kerry Rodger who, with her husband, is a homestay host. They gained a great deal from learning about homestay students’ cultures and family lives. “It’s just really opened our eyes because we’ve had experiences that people don’t normally get.”

The report also highlights the contribution international students makes to innovation. In the US nearly a quarter of the 87 ‘billion dollar’ start-up companies had a founder who first arrived in America as an international student, including Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX.

New Zealand has its own examples of international students who have been drawn here by domestic fees for PhDs and launched start-ups.

Kara Technologies is an online educational platform that aims to deliver education material to deaf children using sign language avatars. The company has attracted significant levels of investment from the University of Auckland Inventors Fund and has hired staff. Kara is now rapidly prototyping, using state-of-the art equipment, such as a $20,000 Mocap suit. Kara’s CEO is University of Auckland PhD student Arash Tayebi from Iran. 

Global research points out that international students have the potential to make a significant contribution to business in their host country. Back here, this is the experience of Beca’s James Bones who, in the Education NZ report, explains the many benefits of having a culturally diverse employee base. “Beca provide engineering and consulting services around the globe; it’s essential that we understand our clients, their cultures, their needs, and how best to support them. To enable that, it only makes sense that we draw on the best talent and ideas from around the world.”

In recent years New Zealand, along with Australia, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have all experienced massive growth in the numbers of international students. The number of internationally mobile students is expected to continue growing from about five million in 2015 to an estimated seven to eight million by 2025.

Here, international education is the fourth-largest earner of export revenue for New Zealand with the total economic value of the sector worth an estimated $4.5 billion in 2016. Most of this value is generated onshore through a combination of their direction tuition fees, cost of living and indirect or downstream benefits.

But as the Education NZ report spells out, measuring the contribution of international students in purely economic terms is to short-change the contribution they make to our schools and tertiary institutions, our tourism industry, our research and innovation eco-system, our businesses and to promoting New Zealand’s interests abroad. 

The full report Beyond the Economic – How International Education Delivers Broad Value for New Zealand is available here.

Brett Berquist is the University of Auckland's International Director.

Leave a comment