August 2013 issue

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New Zealand polytechnics

Polytechnics, or institutes of technology, in New Zealand are becoming targeted in their approach to attracting international students, as Nicola Hancox reports.

What sets polytechnics apart from universities is their ability to offer foundation, certificate, diploma and degree courses right through to postgraduate study, says Susie Scott at Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin.

The breadth of programmes and levels of study available is impressive, with a majority of disciplines catering for demand within industry trade. For example, Otago Polytechnic offers bachelor degree programmes in Applied Management, Engineering Technology, Culinary Arts, Midwifery, Nursing, Social Services and Occupational Therapy. A wide selection of diploma, certificate and foundation study programmes are also available, including a Certificate in Avalanche Safety and Snowsport Instructing and a National Certificate in Animal Care.

Greg Walton at Whitireia New Zealand, a community polytechnic with multiple campuses, says universities, like polytechnics, are government owned and provide NZQA qualifications for undergraduate degrees and graduate/postgraduate diploma levels. However, “Universities provide higher-level research-focussed qualifications than we do. [Polytechnics] focus on mixing theory with practical/applied teaching and market realities – what employers want,” he observes.

Developing economies such as China and India are increasingly looking to upskill workers in fields such as business, management, accounting, finance, marketing, IT, hospitality management, early childhood education and nursing, not to mention English proficiency, says Walton. New Zealand’s proximity to the Asian hub makes this region a natural source of students, specifically China, India, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, he adds. However, their suite of creative and visual arts courses has started to attract more European students.

There are basic points of difference between the polytechnic and university models, however, and Anne Young at Bay of Plenty Polytechnic in Tauranga notes that their partnership with the University of Waikato in Hamilton enables them to offer academic pathway programmes to school leavers keen to enrol on a bachelor degree. “International students who have graduated senior high school – year 12 – in their home countries can enrol directly into a university bachelor degree with the polytechnic, without the need for a year 13 foundation studies.”

In addition, over the course of three years, students can gain two or three qualifications and are eligible for two full-time, one-year graduate job search visas. This enables students to gain valuable work experience prior to completing their entire degree course and increases their chances of employment after they graduate. “We are the only tertiary institute in New Zealand able to offer a full-time graduate job search visa after just the second year of study to a student who is studying for a New Zealand university bachelor degree,” says Young.

Degrees are transferable at Whitireia New Zealand, explains Walton. As part of its two-city degree course, students can commence a three-year degree at the Auckland campus before transferring to the Wellington campus for their final year. “No other tertiary institution offers this to their international students. We’ll fly them for free between cities too,” he adds. Work experience and internship opportunities are other unique selling points, says Walton. Offered as part of all their two- and three-year degrees, “This three-to-five month work experience has our graduates ‘work ready’.”

Overseas students represent five per cent of the student body at Otago Polytechnic, and Scott notes they have placed “great emphasis” on internationalisation across all three campuses in the last five years. Currently, China, India, the Philippines and Japan are their top sender countries, but changes in immigration policy have seen Japanese and Filipino numbers tail off.

According to Young, 2012 government policy curtailed graduates’ eligibility to seek full-time work if they had only completed a one-year sub-degree (a qualification below degree level). While overseas recruitment has remained stable, Young laments that this legislation impacted negatively on enrolments. The polytechnic is now turning its attention to the Middle East, China and Indonesia to help plug the gap. “In February 2014 we will be introducing a range of attractive new programmes including sub-degree, degree and graduate diplomas, all with work-rights eligibility,” she says.

The use of agents to enrol international students is important to polytechnics. “A large portion of our students come via agents, particularly Asian countries,” says Scott, although a growing number are contacting the institution directly via its website. Young adds, “Agents will always be a significant part of the marketing mix in international recruitment. We prioritise developing relationships with a small number of key agents that have a high degree of specialisation in New Zealand, and have shown significant business integrity.”

“While awareness and interest in New Zealand education is growing, it is crucially important that New Zealand maintains a continued programme of profile building,” says Young. Scott adds there is solid commitment from the New Zealand government to increase overseas student numbers in the future.

Beth Knowles, Chair of New Zealand's Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics

“ITP is an informal group that meets quarterly to discuss issues relating to the export education industry. The members are from 18 government-owned institutes of technology. The group is involved in sharing market intelligence, lobbying to remove barriers to growth and development of the industry, sharing best practice in regard to internationalisation and international student support services, joint marketing and recruitment activities and supporting collaborative international business development opportunities. “An example of a joint recruitment activity is the recent recruitment events held in India, Sri Lanka and Nepal. A number of institutes worked collaboratively with recruitment agencies to hold events in these countries in April 2013. These have proved very popular with our sector, attaining the best growth rate in the NZ export education industry in the last 12 months. We also support Education New Zealand events and promotional activities across a wide range of countries to achieve our goals.”
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