Dunedin has set the ambitious goal of doubling the value
international education brings to the city to $330 million a
year by 2023. Tertiary Education reporter Vaughan Elder talks
to some of the city's key players about how they plan to meet
this aim and what the about 5000 international students who
come to Dunedin every year bring to the city.
students arrive in New Zealand most of them get off the plane
in Auckland and stay there.
The challenge is getting more students - most of whom will
have never heard of Dunedin - to take that extra flight and
remain in the city once they get here.
With the average international student contributing well over
$40,000 annually to the Dunedin's economy, it's not hard to
see why Dunedin City Council has targeted ''export
education'' as a growth area through its economic development
The key players were also keen to stress having international
students in Otago - who came from 97 countries ranging from
China to Azerbaijan - added to the cultural vitality of the
region and improved the experience of local students.
Everyone agreed boosting income by bringing in more students
was not going to be easy. Numbers have slipped since 2011.
That downward trend appeared to be continuing this year, with
3768 international students in Otago at the end of the first
trimester, down from 3999 at the corresponding time last
The figures made clear how important the Chinese market was
to the region. Students from China made up 1112 of the 5808
international students in Otago last year - up from 644 of
5195 in 2009.
The city's newly appointed export education co-ordinator
Sarah Gauthier, who previously worked for Education New
Zealand, has been tasked with turning the trend around
through the city's ''project education uplift''. She is
passionate about achieving that goal.
''I did a master's degree in international education. This is
my life,'' she said.
The strategy she was working on with the help of Dunedin's
education sector was largely about building the Dunedin
There was need to tell an ''engaging and compelling story
about Dunedin'' centred around selling the city as a
''high-quality destination'' and showing off the city's
''We built the first university [and ] first state girls
school in the southern hemisphere.''
''It's a high-quality destination, dedicated to education,
where students can feel well supported and able to grow in a
Increasingly there was realisation it was not sustainable for
so many international students to keep going to Auckland.
''So 60% of international students are in Auckland and the
Government and the regions have realised that we need to
distribute this capacity more effectively across the country,
because Auckland is becoming overloaded.''
She expected the work would take time to bear fruit.
''I think if we commit to the project over the next three
years we will begin to see results.''
Efforts could be complicated by what happened globally. The
high New Zealand dollar and increasing competition from
offshore were making it more difficult.
''There are always factors that are out of our control, in
terms of how the global economy is changing, how what used to
be [some of] our biggest sources of students [e.g. Malaysia
and Singapore] have now become our biggest competitors.''
Otago Girls' High School principal Linda Miller, who is the
secondary school representative on the city's new ''project
education uplift'' advisory board, noted barriers to
attracting international students south.
''You are fighting against a lack of knowledge about New
Zealand, but you are also fighting against discrimination
from other parts of the country.''
''There is the perception of the cold climate. Often it's a
perception sown from other organisations throughout New
Zealand: 'Oh you don't want to down south. It's too damn
Ultimately, Dunedin institutions had to fight to justify that
''extra plane ride''.
In order to do this the Dunedin education sector was now
working together to sell the Dunedin brand. The time was
right to sell what the city had to offer.
''If you are wanting your child to learn English and enjoy
the Kiwi lifestyle then being one of 200 [international
students] in a secondary school [in Auckland] is not going to
give you anything like the experience you will get being one
of six in Dunedin.''
With international secondary pupils paying tuition fees of
between $12,000 and $15,000, the benefits were obvious.
''It's about making up the shortfall in funding from the
Government in order to provide the facilities and
opportunities that we would like to.''
In an increasingly globalised world it was also important
local students were exposed to people from other parts of the
Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce supported Dunedin's
target, which was even more ambitious than the Government's
aim to double the economic value of New Zealand's
international education sector to $5 billion by 2025.
''I'm in favour of [it being more ambitious] because
historically the city has been a little underdone for
international students,'' he said.
Mr Joyce, who has not shied away from being critical of
University of Otago's previous efforts to attract
international students, said the situation had turned around.
''We have got past the idea of whether it is a good idea or
not and everyone is focused on actually achieving an
increased number of students.''
Apart from the income they brought, hosting international
students was also important for the city through connections
forged with trading partners. Otago University international
pro-vice chancellor Prof Helen Nicholson, also on the
''project education uplift'', said Mr Joyce's past criticism
of the university was largely to do with the cap it had on
''I think he has perceived that we wanted to limit the number
of international students and we did have a limit of 12% and
that has now risen to 15%,'' Prof Nicholson said.
The university was now more determined to lift international
student numbers and treated the 15% cap as a target.
''I think the environment has changed and I think there is a
real willingness, from the chancellor and vice-chancellor
down, we need to get up to that 15%.''
She was pleased with new-found co-operation between the
city's institutions, which included Otago Polytechnic.
''I think it's really exciting that the DCC are employing
Sarah Gauthier, because she has got energy and skill and it's
important that the institutions in Dunedin work together.''
It was ''difficult to tell'' when international numbers at
the university - which had declined since 2010 - would
increase, but it was hoped it would happen next year.
She accepted global trends would always have a large part to
''You have to accept that's the case, and do what you can to
[try to] develop the market.''
''Because if we just sit and do nothing we will be told off
by Mr Joyce and probably quite appropriately.''
Here to learn
• The top-performing
students normally stay in China and most often it is the
students/pupils who don't make it in to the top schools who
are sent to New Zealand.
• 5808 international students studied in Otago last year,
contributing an estimated $165 million to the region's
• Twenty-four countries, including Palestine, Afghanistan,
Cuba and Peru, each sent only one student to Otago.
• Despite a raging civil war in Syria, the number of students
from there in Otago increased from one in 2012 to five last
Joining in family life
and Robyn Burrows, of Dunedin, play a card game with the
overseas student they are hosting, Miho Onizuka (16), of Tokyo,
Mrs Burrows, who has hosted overseas students since 2000,
says the most important thing about being a host family is
treating international students as one of the family.
Miho, who is studying at Otago Girls' High School, said she
was enjoying Dunedin so far and the biggest difference from
back home was how small the buildings were here.