Making international connections

Suman Singh, who hails from New Dehli, is one of the international student reps at Otago...
Suman Singh, who hails from New Dehli, is one of the international student reps at Otago Polytechnic. Photo: Christine O'Connor
It is worlds away from her old life in India, but when New Delhi-based HR professional Suman Singh decided she wanted a change of career, she knew New Zealand was the place she wanted to go.

Ms Singh (36) said she chose Otago Polytechnic to gain her graduate diploma in tourism, which would hopefully enable her to gain a job as a tour guide.

"I'm really keen to go travelling to different places and see different cultures," she said.

"I know that [New Zealand] is a nice place to be, especially a safe place. I was quite confident coming here alone," she said.

"It was a big change for me [coming to such a small city]."

However, working and interacting with people from the United States and Europe meant she did not have as much of a culture shock as other international students might get.

Ms Singh said she did not think the Christchurch mosque attacks would deter students from studying in New Zealand, and she still considered the society safe .

"I think that was a very sad incident, that nobody would have expected. I know what's happening around the world, maybe New Zealand is not that immune.

"We have to live where we want."

During her orientation, Ms Singh, now one of the Otago Polytechnic Students' Association international reps, got a chance to meet other international students and learn about support services available, and she said the lecturers had been "very supportive and very patient".

Otago Polytechnic's international students bring in $4.5million annually to Dunedin, and more than half a million dollars to Central Otago, the polytechnic says - and for international student recruitment to be managed by a central institution would jeopardise the ambitions of its regional partnership programme.

The Government has proposed a New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology to manage capital and operational budgets, staffing, student and learning management systems for all polytechnics.

Submissions on the proposal closed yesterday.

Polytechnic chief executive Phil Ker has put forward an alternative proposal, suggesting power over what to teach and how to assess, international student recruitment policies and detailed budgets remain with individual providers.

Polytechnic global engagement director Marc Doesburg said there were about 300 international students in Dunedin, and 35 in Cromwell.

"Immigration New Zealand estimates that an international student will require at least $15,000 per year to cover all living expenses."

Contributions to the community were more than economic - students were "active members of the community" and enriched it, Mr Doesburg said.

"They stay with New Zealand families, volunteer for local agencies, become members of societies and clubs, and are part of the workforce."

Mr Doesburg said he believed international students and partners were attracted by the polytechnic's education philosophy, ethos, innovation, portfolio of programmes, learner support services and management and business operations.

The relationships had taken a long time to develop - for instance the Japanese market - and trust and confidence had been created.

"Agent management and institutional management are very much about personal relationships for quality, as required in the code of practice.

"These will not be easy to hand over to a central agency to manage. Potential value will be lost as a result."

The bulk of students were "aligned with our school leavers", Mr Doesburg said.

"We have some who are a little bit older, and there are older students who are coming in for postgraduate study."

There were others who chose to do short, intensive courses.

Each of the Otago Polytechnic's campuses was promoted in a different way - for instance Auckland was "very much a cosmopolitan destination" whereas Central Otago was "very much a rural destination" with horticulture, agriculture and viticulture.

Dunedin was not a metropolis, but it was an attractive destination as a quiet, picturesque city.

"There is potential for [the polytechnic's promotion of its different destinations] to be jeopardised if it isn't managed correctly."

The polytechnic also helped international students become familiar with the New Zealand workplace and make connections with employees, through a work-ready initiative it shared with the university and city council.

"We believe that Otago Polytechnic has many layers which make it unique."

There were many facets to Otago Polytechnic that made it "unique" as a study destination, Mr Doesburg said.

"We may lose those distinguishing characteristics."

All of the options available to New Zealand students - including microcredential courses and Capable New Zealand pathways - were also available to international students, Mr Doesburg said.

The polytechnic was also working on developing credentials which would enable international students to have their soft skills recognised.

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