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NZ universities should chase the Chinese tertiary education market in a joint effort, says Professor Ang

NZ universities should chase the Chinese tertiary education market in a joint effort, says Professor Ang
Want to go to university here? Why New Zealand has key advantage in the education market.

By Siah Hwee Ang*

A couple of weeks ago the China Scholarship Council of the Ministry of Education of PRC China organised its sixth International Graduate Scholarship Fair in Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai.

The objective of the China Scholarship Council is to provide financial assistance to Chinese citizens wishing to study abroad and to foreign citizens wishing to study in China.

It’s designed to develop the educational, scientific and technological, and cultural exchanges and economic and trade cooperation between China and other countries.

The Fair, which involves about 100 tertiary institutions from across 20 countries, showcases the postgraduate programmes that are on offer in these institutions.

I was there to represent the Victoria University of Wellington.

Students from all over China flood to these locations to have an opportunity to meet with representatives from the participating universities, and to learn about the postgraduate programmes that might be suitable for them.

The annual event also allows foreign tertiary institutions an avenue to access the Chinese tertiary education market. Given that there are seven million graduates each year in China, the market is significant for foreign institutions interested in export education.

Export education market

More than 200,000 Chinese are studying in tertiary institutions in the United States. China is New Zealand’s largest export education market.

The China Scholarship Council continues to be keen to send talented Chinese abroad for education.

They also wish that these talented Chinese will eventually go back to China to contribute to the economy.

While the Chinese universities are improving in their international status, it seems that most of them will take a while to get there.

The research environment of most Chinese universities will also need to improve.

Given these challenges, it’s not surprising to see that many Chinese are still keen to undertake further education in Western universities.

The X-factor

During conversations I had with students while I was there, the pollution in China seemed to be one of the major factors pushing export education.

A clean environment, believe it or not, has become an X-factor in export education.

I have taken some shots on the extent of pollution in some parts of China while I was there. The first picture below was taken in Beijing, while the second one was taken in Xi’an, both at 8.30am local time. (The consolation of my trip is that Shanghai’s weather was great!)

So when I showed Wellington (e.g. below picture) and New Zealand to some Chinese students, they were thrilled.

In fact, many of those interested in New Zealand universities are not just coming to us because of our qualities, they are excited about our environment!

So it seems that the environment New Zealand can offer is an asset that is in a better position, thanks to the pollution in China! (Not the best way to put it but this is a fact.)

Lessons derived from such trips

This is not the first time that I have been to such fairs.

Yet, the learning each time seems to be different. But at least this time round several aspects are becoming obvious.

The pollution in China has put us in a better position for Chinese students pursuing further studies. Never has environmental concerns been such a major part of their decision. But now it’s as though they see the downside to living in polluted cities.

Although this is an opportunity we can exploit, New Zealand’s tertiary education institutions can’t rest on their laurels. (Of course a few of our universities were at this fair.)

The matter of fact is that in some of my conversations, there were Chinese students who did not know where New Zealand is located! Let alone Wellington or Auckland.

Further, some Chinese students would approach our counter and asked “tell me more about Victoria University of Wellington.” Others cannot differentiate Victoria University of Wellington from University of Victoria from Canada and Victoria University in Australia.

This means that New Zealand’s tertiary education’s image needs some publicity.

Given our size, it makes sense for New Zealand universities to come together to tackle the vast Chinese tertiary education market. In 2013 alone, there were 1.66 million outbound Chinese students. And we just need a small portion of that.

Tourism also stands to gain from a boost from the export education sector as families and friends visit. Not to mention that word of mouth will spread about our beautiful country.

Clearly there is no reason to miss such an opportunity.


Professor Siah Hwee Ang holds the BNZ Chair in Business in Asia at Victoria University. He writes a regular column here focused on understanding the challenges and opportunities for New Zealand in our trade with China. You can contact him here

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