Reputation and results – a recipe for success
Preparing students for a presence in an internationally integrated world is the aim of Wellington College’s International Programme. “Having international students increases acceptance of other cultures and other languages amongst all our boys,” says International Student Manager Mike Pallin.
Wellington College was one of the first schools to enter into the international student market, taking in its first students in 1994 after then Deputy Principal Mike Pallin visited four countries – Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore – as part of a New Zealand Education International Limited (NZEIL) initiative.
That first trip resulted in three students – two from Thailand, one from Malaysia – arriving six months later to study ESOL as part of an existing programme developed for non-English speaking local students.
For the first 18 months there was little structure to the international programme but there was a plan to build to 20 students within three years.
The College now has 70 international students, with about 50 per cent completing their programme each year. Wellington College focuses on long-stay students because of the financial benefit, because they tend to have more of an academic focus and because they tend to be more settled.
About 10-15 per cent of students are short-stay, mainly in niche hockey and rugby programmes. The College’s two week rugby course, offered in conjunction with the Wellington College Rugby Club is targeted at Japanese students, who study a mix of English language skills and fitness and rugby skills.
The hockey programme is offered to German students who come for six months to play hockey alongside their class work. Running for five years, this programme fits with the College’s philosophy as it has a strong academic focus complementing the hockey training. While it is only short-term, some students choose to stay on and study for university entrance.
Mike Pallin says a viable international programme needs a minimum of 20 students.
“You pretty much need at least one full time support resource whether you have three international students or 20. And because of the diversity of the roles it can’t effectively be the same person. But you need an extra teaching resource for every additional 20-25 students you have.”
Marketing, recruiting and pastoral care and the job of homestay management and administration of students are two quite different roles that need two people. The job is too big for one person, Mike says, and marketing means being out of the country so you need to have someone in New Zealand who can respond quickly to the needs of students and their homestay families.
Often the international management role is part of another duty – Mike didn’t dedicate himself fully to the international manager role until he stepped down from Deputy Principal. He says having someone dedicated to what is an involved, 24/7 job is a factor in their success.
With 1550 students, the school is aiming to reach about 5% or about 80 international students. This would appear to be the optimal number, says Mike, to ensure the school retains its unique nature and culture.
All services and support are fully funded from international income. Of the fees charged per student, about 40 per cent is returned as profit to the school. While some is returned directly to the international programme, it also funds the purchase of technology, sports facilities and other extras so all pupils benefit.
Home away from home
Sue Mackay’s fulltime role includes managing the college’s homestay families, visa, processing, invoicing and administration.
She says the quality of the homestays plays a crucial part in the success of the international programme, though finding appropriate families to host students is a challenge.
“Ideally we get the college community involved. We are looking for families who have children of their own – who are going to be involved in the school community. You want someone who is going to be interested in the life of the students, take them to sports, take them away and check their homework. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case.”
The College tries to match students who come for the rugby or hockey short courses with a sporting family with similar interests and will ask for host families within that niche community.
“We recruit new families through word of mouth and we promote through the school community. We tried advertising in the local paper but we didn’t get the quality we wanted. We got the quantity but not the quality.”
She says they try to avoid families who are just involved for the money, and over the years they have built up a group of families who open their homes year after year, often to more than one student.
Sue says providing the care her young charges need is important.
“You need to be mindful of how homesick they can become, especially the younger ones. Living in a New Zealand home may be a complete culture shock to them. Food can be a big issue; sometimes they find it hard to get used to our way of eating.”
She is available 24 hours a day and is in constant communication with homestay families, talking to her families regularly, sometimes daily.
Issues where schools need to work closely with the families are on attendance and internet usage. Students may be used to going to bed later in their home country, and in New Zealand may struggle to get out of bed and to class on time in the morning – perhaps after playing, studying or staying up to talk with family in a different time zone.
Students may also be used to unlimited broadband and don’t realize the cost and limitations of New Zealand’s internet service. “Homestay parents need to be mindful as students Skyping home and being online all night can soon push up broadband usage in a home.”
International dean and head of the English language department, Diane Smithson, says the college’s International Centre is a haven for international students within the school. It’s a place where students attend classes as well as where they can heat up their lunch in the microwave ovens, relax on the couches and talk in their own language with other international students.
Originally a spare prefab, but now part of a wider student complex, the centre is open all day and Diane’s open door policy means she is always available.
We focus on each student’s individual needs, says Diane. Each student’s English is tested on entry to determine the best course of study for that person, and on-going monitoring of his progress in each of his subjects continues as he moves through the school. His English also tested again at various stages throughout his time at the college to check he is continuing to be placed at the correct level. Changes can be made if necessary.
Students meet regularly with a member of the international team to help them identify what they want to do in the future, and what they need to study to achieve this, especially if they want to go to university. Together they set an academic goal and a service goal. That service goal can be as simple as the student agreeing to tidy their bedroom – something they may never have had to do at home.
She says it is critical that schools invest in employing quality, suitable and experienced teachers.
“I have seen too many situations where schools have employed the cheapest possible (or clearly unsuitable) teachers for their English language programmes. Many teachers "fall" into the job simply because they were the ones available. This is an area where the greatest contact and the best interactions are possible between international students and teaching staff yet frequently the best is not employed to manage this situation. There is a perception that anyone who speaks English can teach English, which is, to put it simply, not true”.
She says streetwise students can run rings around naïve, inexperienced teachers.
“As a point of difference or as a point for success, schools must employ well qualified teachers who understand and can deal with the ramifications of teaching students at that particular age and stage of development and who can teach students who come from a totally different philosophical background.”
She says they must also be up-to-date pedagogically and able to work with students who may not be used to our style of teaching and learning.
“If a student is successful academically in a school then that is the best marketing tool possible for future students.”
The College’s international marketing budget is $46,000 this year, which funds international visits, marketing collateral and presence at education fairs. About 35 new students arrive each year, resulting in a marketing cost (excluding agents fees, staffing costs etc) of about $1,300 per student.
Mike says at a minimum a school should put aside $20,000 for recruitment marketing. And if the budget is small, focus on where to get the most benefit. Having a well presented website is essential. An ideal website would have landing pages in different languages, he says, and just this can be a significant cost.
Wellington College’s two main methods of recruiting students are via in-country agents, to whom a commission fee is paid, and education fairs. A few enquiries come directly from parents, and word of mouth referrals are important. 60 to 70 per cent of interest comes via agents, the rest from internet enquiries and from local family connections. “We don’t get huge numbers from the fairs but it’s about exposure - you feel you have to be there, to have a presence and support New Zealand Inc. Attending fairs also provides the opportunity to visit your agents and meet with parents of current students”
Their most successful marketing tool is word of mouth, and this can only be achieved by establishing a reputation for quality of education and care.
Diane says they try to position themselves as an academic school with niche sports programmes targeted at specific communities.
While they have an excellent academic record, they are competing with other top New Zealand schools in this space, so they also promote their differences, such as the benefits of Wellington as a smaller, safer place to study. Students tend to choose the country first, the city second, and the school comes last in the decision making process so having Wellington in the College’s name does make it easier, says Mike.
While they have been more proactive about developing a marketing plan over recent years, they admit the strategy tends to be more related to historical success than anything else and the number of markets is limited by how many countries they can effectively market to - realistically one person can manage about four countries.
They are beginning to work on alumni relationships, as their alumni will be the best advocates back in their home countries. Anyone travelling overseas also tries to visit parents of current pupils or past students. “Meeting parents where we are marketing is hugely beneficial,” says Diane, showing the level of commitment the school has to its students, past and present.
Growth from China
Feng Yu is Wellington College’s China marketing manager, but like many there he wears multiple hats teaching Chinese and mainstream economics. He joined the school first as a teacher and then as part of the international programme.
“Having a native Chinese speaker gives us a real advantage. Since we have had Feng the China market has really taken off. We were getting one or two students a year from the big agents in China, now we are getting seven or eight a year due to the inroads Feng has made. We now have about 30 boys from China – that’s about saturation point for us. Now we can focus on quality rather than just attracting any student,” says Mike
Feng says Chinese parents need a lot of information so he has prepared a range of marketing brochures, in Chinese, that detail everything from the academic programmes to instructions on how to travel between Auckland and Wellington. This additional attention to detail adds to their reputation for pastoral care and can make the difference for a parent wanting the best for their only child.
The students’ perspective
Fame Vongjitbunta came to New Zealand from Thailand five years ago to study in the Bay of Plenty and is now in his third and last year at Wellington College.
He says in New Zealand and at Wellington College, going to school is more than just going to class. He raves about the integration of extracurricular activities with classroom learning and how the school is prepared to tailor the individual’s learning around other commitments (Fame is a prefect and president of the International Student Association this year).
He came to New Zealand because a former classmate at his international school in Thailand was here. “We heard it was a very open country, friendly towards everyone.
“Every teacher accepts what I can do and what I can be capable of. When I came here I had to change my vision and thinking. In Thailand they teach you how to study. Here they teach you to work out what you want to be. People here accept you and what you can do. You can look deep into yourself and who you want to be in the future.”
The decision to come to New Zealand to study was a relatively easy one for German student Lukas Burmeister. He came to Wellington College as part of the six month hockey programme and has already extended his stay. He’s now hoping to gain his university entrance qualification here.
He says he prefers school life in New Zealand – not just because he likes our way of learning but because of what he calls “school pride”. “In Germany we hate our school; here there is a sense of pride in your school. I think this is the same for all New Zealand schools but at Wellington College it is more.
“The teachers and students support each other. We have a motto here - TAB (Together As Brothers). We believe in that.”
He says Wellington College makes students feel very welcome and comfortable. He cites the International Centre and International Students Association and the student leaders as examples of school pride – “They are creating something special at this school.”
While he is here to improve his own hockey skills he has also become involved coaching other, younger students.
Fame says you tend to get involved “because everyone does. It makes you feel like part of the school.”
Lucas says the homestay programme at Wellington College is very good. “They try to match the kids with their family. I have a very sporty family. They eat healthy food, which really helps my health and training.”
He also says coming to New Zealand was a commitment – and a chance. “It is a 35 hour flight away from friends and family – you can’t help but get homesick. It is a chance to experience something new but a half year stay is a big thing – you need to think carefully about it.”
Ben Ayto from Wellington is vice-president of the International Student Association, a group made up of both international and New Zealand-born students. They run quiz nights, international week, and social events aimed at helping the new students become comfortable and familiar in their new school and culture. In their peer tutoring programme New Zealand students help their international classmates with mainstream subjects, which as well as helping them learn, assists them to integrate into the wider school life.
Ben says international students tend to clump together, particularly when there is a number from one country in the same class, particularly before their English language improves. But he says “people are keen to meet people, whoever they are”.
The focus of the international association is to help interaction between the cultures. “There are small things you can do – just say hello, make them feel part of the school, get them to open up.”
- At least $20,000 in the marketing budget.
- Support of the Board of Trustees, the principal, other staff.
- Having dedicated staff to manage recruitment and homestays, whether there are three or 20 students. 1FTE for support, 1 FTE teaching resource per 20 students.
- Knowing what you have to offer as a school and knowing your point of difference from other New Zealand schools.
- Building and retaining long term relationships with agents, homestay families, students and alumni, constantly reminding all of what the College has to offer.
- Word of mouth marketing, building a reputation for quality pastoral care and academic success.
- Appointing experienced and suitable teaching staff to ensure the student’s academic success.
- Being responsive – answering emails within 24 hours, even during the holidays.
- A strong internal support programme for international students – run by the students such as the International Students Association.
- “Quality” homestay families who the students can relate to, connected to the school, who will care for and enhance the student’s experience in New Zealand.
- A place at school where the students feel safe and at home.
- Having a native Chinese speaker to recruit, teach and support Chinese students.
Single sex boys secondary school
70 international students (30 students from China, 8 Thailand, 10 Viet Nam, 6 Germany,
others from Korea, India, Japan, Cambodia, Russia and Malaysia)
Tuition fee: $14,750 a year
Welfare fee: $800
Homestays: $250 a week
Headmaster: Roger Moses
International Director: Mike Pallin
International Dean: Diane Smithson
Homestay Coordinator: Sue Mackay
China Market: Feng Yu