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“Quality is at the heart of what we do”: Grant McPherson of Education New Zealand

Grant McPherson, Chief Executive of Education New Zealand, spoke to BrainGain magazine, about the advantage of a New Zealand education and how the government is working towards making it better.
BY Skendha Singh |   09-11-2016

Higher education in New Zealand is emerging as one of the country’s most attractive sectors. The numbers of international students have grown by leaps and bounds. As have certain problems – shady agents, visa frauds, and deportations.
BrainGain magazine spoke to Education New Zealand’s Chief Executive, Grant McPherson, about the problems, the solutions, and why New Zealand remains a great option for higher education.

1)    The change in laws on English Language Requirements in 2013 led to a great increase in the numbers of international students. But, over the last year, almost 30% of the student visa applications were rejected. Are there any tips you would like to share with international students to help them through the process?

I think there are some really important messages. One is that the quality of the New Zealand education system is very high. And the key is to keep that quality system in place. The heart of what we do is about the quality of the educational experience.

It is a concern for us that we know that a student who is coming to New Zealand for education does research about the institution that he or she wants to join, as well as thinks about who is available to help. Normally, you have a lot of students or parents who will go and see an agent. With agents, some are very good but some aren’t. So, the idea is how you choose an agent.

If you go to our website, which is www.studyinnewzealand.govt.nz, or the Immigration NZ website (www.immigration.govt.nz), they have a list of licensed immigration agents. So, potential students and parents can identify recognized agents who have some sort of connection to New Zealand.

At the end of the day, coming to New Zealand under a student visa is about how you improve your education, and how you continue learning. It should not necessarily be a pathway to something else. At the end of the process, you will be someone with more knowledge, more skills, more experience - which make you look reasonably good to an employer, whether in New Zealand or back in India.

Also, it’s about the level of study. In the university sector, at the undergraduate degree level, there is a 98% approval rating. That’s very high because both universities and agents know what they have to do.

2)    In September, New Zealand deported 150 students for fraud. Most people saw this as the handiwork of shady agents. Are there any safeguards being enabled to protect the interests of innocent students?

If I can just touch on the students that have been affected by the actions taken - some are in breach of the student visa requirements; some have overstayed the visa; not all of them are in study; some of them have been involved in unlawful activity; and others are misinformed. We have been working with them on a case-by-case basis. Thinking about it from a humanitarian point of view, or considering personal circumstances, New Zealand does have an appeals process that a student can go through.

We don’t want this to happen because the student gets impacted. Some may have come through with a different sort of focus than just getting an education, but if I look at the numbers last year, there were 29000 Indian students in New Zealand. What you’re looking at is about a 150 out of 29000. That said, I do want to make it clear that it’s bad. We don’t want any student to go through this.

One of the things that has occurred in New Zealand since the 1st of July is the enactment of an Education Code we refer to as ‘Pastoral Care of International Students’. Anyone who has international students coming in to their education institution must be a signatory, otherwise they can’t enroll international students. This code has recently been updated, and more responsibility has been put on the provider to ensure that the agent who is working on their behalf in the market – whether in India, China or Europe, is acting in the best possible light.

The New Zealand government can go to the provider in case of poor or inappropriate behaviours by the agent. The government tries to ensure that providers have arrangements with strong agents. That’s one thing.

The second thing is that Immigration New Zealand know agents who have very high decline rates, and they also know which education providers they’re working for. In the last 3-6 months, we have been informing the Chief Executives of all the providers that their agents are putting up students, who are not meeting the quality level for whatever reason – inadequacy of financial backup or failing English language requirements. So, we’re trying to tidy that up.

Q.   What is New Zealand’s outlook on post-study work options for international students?

About a year or two ago, we changed the Right to Work for students that allowed different number of hours for different periods of time. There have been changes in our immigration division, who also issue work and residency visas, and have also been making sure they’ve got their roles and settings right.

There are areas in New Zealand which have skills shortages – long and short term. The Immigration New Zealand website lists key shortage areas like Agriculture and Forestry, Engineering, Finance, Health, ICT and Electronics, Recreation, and others.  For students enrolled in courses of study in these areas, where there is demand for labour, there are several ways to go through and extend the period of post-study work, whether through a work visa or a Skilled Migrant visa.

Q.   You have just signed the Strategic Partnership Alliance with Maharashtra. In what other ways are you looking to build institutional engagement with India?

That’s a really good question. One of the challenging things, when you’re the size of New Zealand, particularly when you’ve got 8 universities - and all of them are in the top 3 % globally, is - how do you choose and identify partners? There are so many! How do you identify those that are willing to work with you, how do you get the same mindset of internationalizing students, and supporting wider views? That’s why we have these MoUs.

The institutions partnering up is really positive. The idea behind this MoU is a larger 5-year strategy to build a relationship. At the meeting, several universities – including Brunel and Mumbai, came up with action plans, including initiatives like student and faculty exchanges, joint research projects, joint development projects, and so on. This is the start.

Q. What makes New Zealand distinct from countries like the US, UK, Australia and Canada, as a destination of international education?

Firstly, we are the only country that has all the universities in the top 3% so that means a consistency of quality. You can’t make a bad choice! And, within each of those universities, there are individual programs, which are very highly rated. So, if you look at engineering, dentistry, law, creative arts, as individual programs- they are all in the top 50 in the world. If you want to do accounting, you’ll get a very good qualification, even if there are a lot of them. If you want to be in the creative industries, or focus on food technology or food processing, those streams are very highly rated. So, the quality piece is there.

Secondly, New Zealand is seen as very welcoming. We’re seen as relatively safe – a lot safer than other countries; there is an acceptance of diversity within our environment. Also, we offer a great lifestyle - open spaces, sports, and a range of things at reasonable prices.

In New Zealand, you get a globally recognized qualification. I’m an alumnus of the system, and my qualification has allowed me to go and work anywhere in the world, because people recognize it. It’s a qualification which gives you credibility anywhere in the world.

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