Auckland, New Zealand

Mission Export Education

Auckland Tertiary Education Network (ATEN)

February 12, 2014

A collaborative university partnership puts international students on the city’s regional development agenda.

ATEN_Group of students

The bird that partakes of the berry, his is the forest.  

 The bird that partakes of knowledge, his is the world.

— A Whakatauki (Maori) proverb

International education is worth NZ$2.3 billion (US$1.9 billion) to the New Zealand economy and is the country’s fifth largest export industry.  Its 2013 national budget set aside NZ$40 million for investment over the next four years in marketing and promoting the export education industry and doubling its value by 2025.

Universities are an important stakeholder and marketing tool for the sector, especially in Auckland, the country’s largest city that attracts more than half of New Zealand’s international students. A 2014 objective, for example, is to seek new student markets in South America and Asian nations such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. That makes removing barriers that might discourage international students a  top priority.

To make this possible, the Auckland Tertiary Education Network (ATEN) was established in 2012 by three universities and two polytechnics in the Greater Auckland Region in partnership with the Auckland Council.  The ATEN network brought together rival institutions to identify key aspects of welcoming and integrating international students. International students are not only important economically to these institutions. They also play a pivotal role in enriching the intellectual environment of the university and exposing local students to the world. This diversity dividend makes all students better global citizens.

A collective voice

Paul Spoonley, Massey University’s Distinguished Professor, says ATEN’s purpose is to provide a collective voice to address issues affecting international students such as personal safety, transport and food options. “A lot of what attracts and retains international students is not necessarily curriculum-based. It is what happens off-campus that will provide the foundation for internationalising New Zealand universities,” he says.  A student who feels comfortable and secure is also more likely to achieve academic success. It’s a win-win formula.

The ATEN network brings key stakeholders in the academic sector together to develop insight and better strategies for how to attract and retain international students. That includes looking at the policy environment where New Zealand shares common ground with countries like Canada and Australia. New Zealand provides a  pathway to citizenship that sees around 20% of international students becoming permanent residents. According to Spoonley, it’s a smart strategy:

“These students have been exposed to local culture, social interaction and business practices and are much more likely to settle successfully making it important to try and increase the numbers of international students as a pool from which to recruit permanent residents.”

Auckland Night MarketThe greatest challenge facing cities in the export education market, or any city interested in attracting immigrants to the local economy, is how to create a welcoming culture. In Auckland, ATEN focuses on a variety of activities, including a welcome function for all students that includes the Mayor and Auckland Council, a Maori powhiri (indigenous community welcome) and local events such as  the Auckland Night Markets which pop up in a different parts of the city from Friday to Sunday to provide a taste of home for thousands of migrants from all over the world. An eclectic range of food, shops and activities representing a diverse range of cultures and traditions all contribute to the city’s cosmopolitan buzz and help create a welcoming, open experience for locals and newcomers alike.

From strategy to action

To meet its internationalization goals, Spoonley identifies five key actions that will guide ATEN’s work in 2014:

  1. Action. Increase the responsiveness of tertiary institutions to changing trends in student immigration. With students from the Philippines fast catching up in numbers with those from China and India, universities need to act now to anticipate the needs of these newcomers.
  2. Welcoming. It is vital to continue to encourage a climate of respect for international students. They enrich the university, academically and socially, while being an important economic asset.  Academic institutions and university leaders need to promote respect for cultural differences and find ways to incorporate diversity as a positive value in all areas, from extracurricular tuition to religious beliefs and accommodation requirements.
  3. Inclusion. Immigrant communities within the Auckland region can become marginalized or isolated from the mainstream. ATEN aims to bring different migrant communities together through social and cultural activities such as sport, music and popular culture.
  4. Common ground. Diversity is not new to Auckland (Tamaki Makaurau ) or New Zealand (Aotearoa). The country’s indigenous language graces the names of many important places and institutions. Exposure to local people and their practices, such as that of the Ngati Whatua tribe indigenous to the area, will provide a valuable experience for international students.
  5. Innovate. Promote opportunities to use the languages of immigrants rather than insisting on using English exclusively. Tap into transnational networks for new ideas and opportunities.

The Business Case

ATEN promotes two key benefits for regional economic development from international students. First, there is a multiplier effect from non-educational spending which contributes a significant income source for Auckland businesses.  Additionally, international students provide an important talent pool for New Zealand employers. “This is especially valuable if they become permanent residents” Spoonley adds. Currently, the NZ government has various visa options for international students who want to work in New Zealand or become permanent residents. ATEN aims to  extend existing schemes to link international students with employers, provide advice and guidance and work with relevant groups such as Career Capable Auckland (a partnership of Careers New Zealand, corporate employers and  the Committee for Auckland).

Looking Forward to Success

ATEN aims to use its collaborative strength and active partnership with regional governments and the Auckland Council to push the central government to implement measures to encourage international students to stay on in New Zealand after graduating. This includes advocating for quicker processing of visa applications.

ATEN’s overall goal is aligned with the nation’s aim to increase the percentage of international students in Auckland and the rest of New Zealand. The effectiveness of the game plan also depends on its ability to gain the central government’s support for key actions to make Auckland and other New Zealand cities more welcoming destinations and cities of migration.

Making it Work for You:

  • What attracts and helps retain students is not always curriculum-based. Off-campus factors are also important, such as personal safety, housing and recreation and food options.
  • Use the collaborative strength of partnership and the evidence of success to promote policy reform that can help your organization achieve its goals.
  • Establish clear objectives and measurable outcomes that  can support your business case and long-term sustainability. Evaluate the  effectiveness of game plans early and  make corrections if needed.