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Matthew Knott, News Editor of StudyTravel Magazine
Opinion... from the News Editor

International education strategies certainly seem to be in vogue at the moment, with the latest from New Zealand joining recent plans from Australia and Ireland.

In all three cases it is notable that the strategies have been released after a period of success and growth for their respective international education industries.

 

As such, they probably represent high-level recognition of that success and the value the sectors bring to the economy, and a desire to hold on to that, both for its financial contribution and soft power influence. New Zealand's Tertiary Education Minister, Paul Goldsmith, notes the international education is New Zealand's fourth-largest export sector in his foreword to the draft strategy; in Australia it is the third most valuable.

 

Do the strategies make much difference? Well it will take time to judge given the timeframes of the plans, and even then it will be difficult to separate the influence from other factors such as currency fluctuations.

 

Nonetheless, it certainly helps to have the government on board, especially when that is across all segments of government, as Australia's round-tables on the industry are. Departments of trade will always be supportive; making sure that their education and immigration counterparts are dancing to the same tune is another matter.

 

In the USA (see below) and the UK, educators must feel like they are persistently fighting battles with government, or sections of it, so there is certainly something to be said for knowing that the government is supportive of the industry.

 

And if that support can be harnessed to develop new markets, as most of the strategies outline, then that will stand the industry in good stead. The New Zealand draft plan states that the country is over-reliant on China and India and must expand beyond that base to make the strategy a success. Of course, governments must value the role that agents will play in the development of those new markets.

 

Another key factor is infrastructure. I've read strategies that outline bold recruitment targets with barely a mention of the infrastructure that will be required to support them. Again, the New Zealand government acknowledges that concern, stating that Auckland's housing infrastructure is feeling the pressure, while other parts of New Zealand have plenty of capacity for growth.

 

As stated, all of this is preferable to having a government that doesn't understand the industry.

 

Recent stories regarding Donal Trump's travel ban and related immigration rhetoric have demonstrated disharmony between the sector and government in the USA. So this week's news that the Department of Homeland Security is considering annual visa renewals for international students is hardly likely to go down well.

 

It is a somewhat baffling suggestion. Either welcome students or don't: letting them in and then making them renew a visa every year of a degree is just bureaucratically self-defeating and achieves nothing in terms of 'national security'.

 

Officials advise it is only at preliminary discussion stage, along with other measures such as definite cut-off points for visas from the outset, so that new visas would be required for extensions of courses or transfer to further programmes.

 

Moreover, an official indicated that any change in the duration of visa status would require formal proposals and posting in the Federal Register, a process that generally takes two to three years to complete.

 

So there is no imminent threat to the sector, but nonetheless another battle ahead for a group of educators that are probably casting envious glances at strategies and talk of new markets, sustainable growth and valued contributions.

 

 

By Matthew Knott

News Editor