This is the argument laid out in New Zealand’s PhD tuition strategy for international students 2005-2015, a holistic analysis– a paper by the international director at the University of Aukland, Brett Berquist.
In the paper, Berquist argues that the program has boosted the country’s research output and higher education reputation as well as offset the country’s outward flow of domestic talent.
But, with nationalism on the rise globally, and a general election in September, he says New Zealand’s international education sector needs greater advocacy.
“The general public understands the revenue side but not necessarily how international students contribute to society in general”
“The general public understands the revenue side but not necessarily how international students contribute to their children’s educational experience and to society in general, beyond the dollars,” the paper says.
The paper points out that while New Zealand’s share of globally mobile students has declined, its presence in top 50 rankings has increased as a result of the 12-year old initiative.
All eight of New Zealand’s universities are now in the top 50 of the QS World University Rankings compared to three in 2005.
The paper also shows that international PhD enrolments have soared since the program was established, from 14% of total HE students to 45% in 2015, equating to just over 4,000 students.
Beyond rankings and enrolments, the paper elicited the academic impact international PhD students have made showing that prior to the strategy the rate of citations for New Zealand research was .96% of the world average and in 2015 it had risen to 1.26%.
At the University of Auckland, on average, each international PhD student produces 2.7 authored or co-authored papers, 1.1 authored or co-authored book chapters, and 3 authored or co- authored conference papers.
Berquist said the program was “a bold new initiative” when it launched and has had few counterparts globally since.
“To offer domestic tuition to all doctoral students, full-time work rights to the student and his or her partner, and domestic school fees for their children is unique in its scope and vision,” he said.
The program also offsets the overseas experience sought by many Kiwi graduates, the paper conteds. Government statistics show 41% of domestic PhD graduates are overseas five years after graduation. Meanwhile one in four international PhD graduates remain in New Zealand five years after graduation.
“We see that as a very successful measure. The general public, however, might focus on the 75% that go on to pursue their career elsewhere and call that a failure. Where is the mark on the glass? How do we agree on measures of success? We definitely see this data reflecting a glass half-full,” said Berquist.
A recent Ministry of Education report, Moving Places – Destination and earnings of international graduates, found one in three international students is still in the New Zealand five years after their first student visa.
Berquist argues the government’s report falls short, however, as it cuts off the survey sample at students 30 years old and younger, which includes only 21-30% of PhD students.
“This is a serious flaw in the statistical relevance of the findings as it severely restricts the sample size,” the paper argues. “It is intuitively evident that the extremely low sample size of international PhD graduates under 30 cautions against policy evaluation based solely on this data set.”
In the run up to the election, the Ministry of Education has signalled a reevaluation of the PhD scheme and an intention to reanalyse international students using a larger, up-to-date data set.
“We encourage the Ministry to analyse the findings for PhD graduates without the age filter for analyses. This will be more useful to New Zealand universities and the field of international education in general,” the paper says.