New Zealand: Roll out the red carpet for English-language students

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Jan 1 15:46:27 UTC 2009

Roll out the red carpet for English-language students
4:00AM Thursday Jan 01, 2009
Rob McKay

At the last export education conference, guest speaker Auckland
Chamber of Commerce chief Michael Barnett spoke of the need for New
Zealand to be seen as welcoming to visitors wanting to study. Somewhat
provocatively, he found NZ Inc wanting. Although this came as no
surprise to the English language school sector, it was refreshing to
hear it from an astute outsider with no direct vested interest. But it
wasn't what the ministers wanted to hear. For the last nine years, the
Government's welcome mat has been missing - certainly as far as
English language school students have been concerned.

A key pointer to this is the discrimination against English-language
students in seeking part-time work. Defying all logic, the immigration
policy requires students to pass an external language test before they
are allowed to seek part-time work.  Given these students want to
travel to gain competency, the reality is they have two choices - try
for a working holiday visa which allows them to work full-time for up
to 12 months with no English test (but which restricts their length of
study) or go to Australia where they can study and work part-time.

Not surprisingly, most choose the latter. A few weeks ago, the Trade
Commissioner's staff in Thailand presented their findings that
work-rights for students was the most important thing for success in
that market. Backing this up, counsellors from key source countries
estimate this regulation alone drives at least 25 per cent of
potential New Zealand-destined students to Australia. In smaller niche
countries, the figure is much higher.

Our $2.3 billion export education industry should actually be at least
$2.6 billion and heading towards $3 billion. During 2008, the industry
lost about $300 million in export income - because of policy settings
that favour nobody. Not only is export education being undermined but
the opportunity for job growth is hugely curtailed. On average, every
10 more students creates an additional job - just in the school
itself. The flow-on effect to tourism and accommodation is just as

The other damaging effect of the former government's policies is to
constrain diversity. Volatility in student demand, as seen in the
highs and lows of the Chinese market, has been driven by the
performance of those few markets large enough to tolerate the official
settings. When those markets find more attractive immigration policies
in other countries, as with China, the effect is hugely damaging.

Whenever a major market is lost to the industry, the political
catch-cry has been to diversify. Well, every year we invest in
marketing in European and South American countries to prepare for
market spread and to be ready when the immigration regulations are
corrected. Why are we in this situation? Seemingly the last
administration felt English language schools, particularly privately
owned ones, were not to be encouraged.  Suggested changes to policy
that would benefit the whole industry fell on deaf ears. Any direct
rebuttal regarding work rights suggested students who achieved
part-time work would displace locals - despite the fact students
actually create jobs for locals way in excess of job displacement.

I'm sure the last Government would point to countless reviews and some
changes that its officials delivered. However, the bottom line is the
English language sector is regulated to almost suffocation point, is
subject to an industry tax (euphemistically called a levy over which
it has no governance input) and its reasonable requests for
immigration policy change have apparently ended up in a recycling bin.
At this time of economic crisis, New Zealand needs to be driving its
export revenue up and creating sustainable new employment so we are
looking to the new Government with great hope for change.

As a study-abroad destination, New Zealand is second to none and the
quality of our English schools is up with the best in the world. We
don't need government funding, we certainly don't need more
regulations or codes. All we need is a sincerely placed welcome mat
and the chance to compete on an equal footing with our neighbours
across the Tasman.

* Rob McKay chairs English New Zealand, the body representing English
language schools.
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