Gala Dinner Speech at the 30th New Zealand International Education Conference Ki Tua (NZIEC KI TUA)


E aku nui, e aku rahi Tēnā koutou katoa.

Da jia hao 

Greetings to all who have joined us at the conclusion of the first day of the New Zealand International Education Conference Ki Tua.

I would like to acknowledge His Excellency Huai Jinpeng, Minister of Education of The People’s Republic of China who has travelled such a great distance to be with us.

We greatly value our long-standing education links with China. Our education relationship is one that is based on reciprocity and partnerships that have been developed through many years of two-way student mobility, high-level dialogue and research collaborations.

It is our privilege and honour to welcome Minister Huai and his delegation here tonight and we also recognise China as this conference's official Country of Honour.

I am also personally delighted to be back here in "the mainland” as I have many fond memories of my early years in education and training to be a teacher, in vibrant Ōtautahi Christchurch

The theme for this year’s conference is “Te Ara Ki Tua” – The Pathway Forward.

It is a theme that is both timely and fitting, as we celebrate the 30th time this important sector conference has been held, while also exploring what the future may hold for New Zealand international education.

Today you have already been treated to inspiring, challenging and stimulating addresses from keynote speakers. You have heard the future-focused perspectives of Helen Souness, well known in education circles for her leadership of RMIT Online, and now an advisor to fast growth digital businesses.

You have also looked 30 years into the future of international education with sociologist and social change commentator Dr. Paul Spoonley. Both enriched their sessions with deep and thought-provoking insights.

Tomorrow, the focus moves onto more international perspectives with Minister Huai, as our first keynote speaker to address the global-focused plenary session.

You will also hear the prospective outlook for next year from Sharon Zollner, Chief Economist for the ANZ Bank, and look into the future of education through the eyes of Kaila Colbin, Founder and Chief Executive of Boma, who will encourage you as leaders and changemakers to be more intentional, insightful and courageous about the future.

A wide variety of breakout sessions that explore key themes such as excellent experiences, marketing smarts, growing global, authentically Aotearoa and fresh offerings, have been purposefully built into the programme.

The selection of topics has been crafted to provide you with an opportunity to connect and discuss your experiences with expert speakers and delegates. They provide a forum for you to learn from each other, to share your passion and ideas on key topics, and help shape New Zealand’s international education future.

While ‘The Pathway forward’ is the conference theme this year, this evening also offers an opportunity to look back over the last 30 years and reflect on how the New Zealand international education landscape has changed.

New Zealand began hosting international students with the Colombo Plan scholars of the 1950s. Private English language schools began offering courses for international students in the 1970s signalling the genesis of the sector we have today. The progress that you have achieved as a sector since then has been remarkable.

In its early days, international education was driven essentially by enthusiastic international education providers who saw its potential as an opportunity to create global connectedness and raise the profile of their institution, while also providing supplementary income.

Numbers of fee-paying students remained relatively low until 1999, the year in which the Education New Zealand Trust was formed as a sector peak body to work alongside the government. In the subsequent five-year period to 2003, New Zealand international education experienced rapid growth with student enrolments increasing 318% to nearly 119,000 students.

The rapid increase in the number of international students arriving in the country highlighted the need for student wellbeing to be at the centre of the sector and prompted the introduction of the Code of Practice for Pastoral Care in 2002.

Further cooperation between the government and the lead sector bodies also established the Export Education Development programme in 2003 and the International Education Budget Package in 2004.

Close liaison between international education providers and government continued, with the functions of the trust finally being taken over by Education New Zealand Manapou ki te Ao in 2011.The new Crown Entity was charged with taking the lead in marketing New Zealand’s education offering around the world.

Within the sector itself, the desire for increased capability, greater collaboration and leadership for schools saw the formation of the Schools International Education Business Association in 2015, connecting hundreds of schools and creating a strategic partner for government.

Other sector bodies representing universities, private training establishments, English language schools, and Education Technology providers have also expanded and become more interconnected.

In short, over the last 30 years, the international education sector in New Zealand has grown in maturity and professionalism. Something for which everyone in this room deserves recognition and credit.

While we face acknowledged challenges in rebuilding international education following the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, the response from international students since the borders re-opened shows we are already well underway.

We have a refreshed International Education Strategy to guide us towards a sustainable and resilient future and can look forward with confidence from hard lessons learnt and the optimism that comes from understanding our unique, inherent strengths as New Zealand education providers.

As a country, we see international education as much more than a short-term transactional exchange. The long-term benefits of preparing young people for a global future, which they will share together, has seen a welcome focus on intercultural awareness, scholarships, exchange schemes and pathway programmes, along with a significant increase in commitment to global citizenship programmes.

There is also increasing awareness of the importance of life-long learning, and the need for adaptability and flexibility to ensure skills remain relevant in a rapidly changing future workplace.

This mature and comprehensive view has also seen international education become much more integrated and embedded in New Zealand’s relationships with other countries.

Our offshore international posts work in an increasingly coordinated and complementary manner, building strong people-to-people links and telling the world of the benefit of interacting with New Zealand through trade, foreign policy, tourism and education. They operate as a team of cooperating agencies, building relationships to benefit both our partners and New Zealand.

An example of this approach was the Prime Minister’s recent visit to China where he was accompanied by a broad business delegation. Education providers made a key and integral contribution to the visit. Indeed, our education connections remain a key pillar of the broader bilateral relationship and the foundation for strong and enduring links between our two countries.

Which brings me back once again to acknowledge our very special Guest of Honour tonight, Minister Huai.

Thank you again for travelling so far to join our conference.

To show our appreciation, we’d like to present you with a taonga or gift. I welcome you to join me on the stage.

This taonga is crafted from pounamu, Aotearoa New Zealand’s precious greenstone.

The design is pikorua and symbolises a bond and connection between our two cultures. 

The entire delegation from China will also receive a taonga to acknowledge our bond and connection.

Thank you.

Now I’d like to invite Minister Huai to give the toast for this evening.