New Zealand is considered one of the premiere destinations for tourists and adventurers. Is there ever a struggle to counterbalance these with the academic strengths which the country has?
'The challenge we always have in New Zealand is to show that we're more than just mountains and sheep. We do have a fantastic environment and wonderful lifestyle. I think it's often a surprise to some people that we have great cities, culture and night-life too. We do try to stress that it's an all-round package including the quality of education which ranks alongside the very best in the world. A recent survey rated Auckland and Wellington in the top 20 cities in the world for quality of life; things like this offer a more rounded picture of New Zealand.'
What are some of the hurdles which New Zealand’s international education sector has come across in the last few years? How has the country and the sector approached and overcome these?
'In February we marked the anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake of 2011 in which, tragically, a number of international students died. That had a huge impact on New Zealand and our international education community, particularly in Christchurch. We've done a lot of work to recover from something which nobody could have predicted.
There are other challenges. We are a small country compared to those we compete against, who have huge budgets. We're distant too. But New Zealanders have been dealing with these issues in relation to our exporting, tourism and relations with other countries for our entire history. So New Zealanders have long had the attitude that we have to be smarter to compete; and that comes back to offering a whole experience to students. We don't sit around complaining about those hurdles; we deal with them together.'
What has this recovery involved?
'Physically there has been a lot of rebuilding. That's taken a long time to do because there has been an awful lot to do. The flipside of that is that there are a lot of work opportunities for migrant workers as a part of that rebuilding. The other thing is continuing to assure our key markets that we are a safe destination and we have world-class building standards.
Some of our institutions, including English schools, who had to shut their facilities or lost student numbers, had to adapt. But they found new places to work from or they built new state-of-the-art premises. So it's been a long rebuilt, it doesn't happen overnight. Now we are seeing international students return to the city.'
What are some of the country’s key or growing industries which students from abroad may not be aware of? What sectors are particularly popular among graduates who may wish to remain in the country to work?
'We do a lot of work to monitor this. The whole I.T. sector is big and growing in New Zealand and an area which offers a lot of work opportunities. New Zealand also has what we call the 'primary industries': Agriculture, Horticulture, Wine....We do find a lot students come here to learn English and to pick up vocational skills, for which New Zealand has an internationally-recognised advantage. The other areas I would highlight are the Hospitality sector (where there are many job opportunities) and Sports (including Sports Management and Sports Psychology). In fact some institutions are putting together some quite interesting packages which combine sports, tourism and education.'
What are international students surprised to learn once they arrive in New Zealand to study? Any popular misconceptions which are quickly dispelled?
'One area which New Zealand has been known for in the last ten years or so, has been the film industry. People would know the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, which were very big for New Zealand having been filmed here. One which is less well known for being filmed in New Zealand would be Avatar. The sheer scale of that industry is often a surprise for those coming here.
Another surprise for those coming here too if often the night-life. New Zealand has a really burgeoning cafe culture; we do like to pride ourselves on the fact that our coffee is amongst the best in the world. So there are a lot of part-time job opportunities for students as baristas and in cafes.
The other thing I would stress is that many international students coming to New Zealand consider Auckland as "the" destination; they might not be reasonably clued up on the other locations. We try to remind people that there is a whole rest of the country to experience as well. Places such as Wellington and Christchurch; or the regional centres where students can really find good value for money, where their cost of living is much lower but the educational opportunities are really good still.'
What should a prospective applicant consider when choosing where to study in New Zealand? Can you give us a quick geographic rundown of what they can expect in particular regions?
'There's a whole diversity available and it does depend on what students are interested in. For students interested in qualifications related to the primary industries like Agriculture, Horticulture or Wine-Making, the regional areas like Hawke's Bay in the North Island or Marlborough in the South Island offer really good opportunities. You'll find institutions which offer qualifications in the I.T., Hospitality and Tourism industries throughout the country but very strongly in the South Island (for instance, Queenstown in the south is a huge tourist destination). Likewise, the Film sector which I mentioned, is strongly associated with Wellington here in the capital city. Additionally, there are English language institutions and polytechnics right throughout the country. We would recommend that students take time to look at the Study in NZ website and see what opportunities there are (and where).'
Recently, New Zealand has announced plans to expand and attract more Indian students than ever before. What other nationalities do you hope to attract or which countries do you see potential for growth? Tell us a bit about the international student community currently in New Zealand.
'Of course India is a big and growing market for a lot of countries and we do put a significant amount of our time and resources into India. However it is not by any means the only market we focus on. We focus very strongly on China, India and Southeast Asia and they make up a big part of the international student community in New Zealand. We also have a strong focus in north Asia which is Japan and South Korea which have been two long-sending sources of international students for New Zealand. We are doing increasing work in Latin America (including Brazil, Chile and Columbia) where we have Education New Zealand people stationed. And we also have Education New Zealand staff in Europe, Germany and Belgium.
As I have said, we are smaller than most of the countries we compete against and we don't have as many resources to have people all around the world and to do as much marketing so we have to think really hard about where we target our resources.'
If you could spread one message today for prospective international students, what would it be?
'"Think new". We think that this sums up the key aspects of New Zealand; that it does offer new experiences, opportunities and new ways to do things.'
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