Distance has done New Zealand’s southern-most province no favours when it comes to international education. Geographically speaking it’s at the end of the line. However, eight Southland education providers, under the banner of Education Southland, have worked together to not only overcome the tyranny of distance, but create an international education success story.
- A 250 percent increase in international student enrolments over the last five years
- In 2012 Southland saw an increase of 16 percent in the number of enrolments of international students
- In the last year alone, international students contributed $20 million to the Southland economy.
Southland, the country's southernmost region, is renowned for its stunning coastlines and wild scenery. Despite its remoteness, the region boasts one of the most successful international education programmes in New Zealand.
This success has been based on collaboration between eight local education providers and a partnership with Venture Southland, Southland’s economic and community development agency. Together they have developed a regional education brand, with a destination-led marketing approach designed to promote and position Southland not only as education destination of choice for international students, but as a viable destination to begin the pathway for on-going education and employment in New Zealand.
Since its inception in 2006, Education Southland has grown international enrolments in the region by 250 percent. In 2012, enrolments of international students decreased nationally by six percent. However, Southland saw an increase of 16 percent based on the initiatives put in place by Education Southland.
“We wanted to attract people to visit, study and live in Southland; therefore, this project fulfilled the destination marketing focus of Venture Southland,” says Rex Capil, Group Manager Tourism, Events and Community at Venture Southland.
As well as providing significant economic benefits for the region, the work of Education Southland is changing the face of the region, adding diversity and bringing in new cultures to towns throughout Southland.
Critical to the success of Education Southland is an understanding that its work requires time; results don’t happen overnight and require a long-term investment.
“I would say to the school boards that they would need to understand that this is a long-term process. I would reiterate that even though the schools involved now appreciate that, I would place it up front if we were starting again tomorrow.”
By being realistic about scale, Southland education providers have been able to achieve sustained steady growth in the number of international students coming to the region.
“When Southland Girls High started in the collective eight years ago, they only had two international students. They now claim 25 to 30 each year. Central Southland College is a small rural school 20 minutes outside of Invercargill with a roll of 400 – they have 10 international students.”
Schools invest in only what they want to be part of, giving them the freedom to tailor activity to their own needs, and allowing smaller schools to get involved.
As a result of focusing on a sustainable model, and ensuring both students and their families have a good experience in Southland, a large number of these students are choosing to stay in New Zealand and to continue on at Kiwi universities.
"Many students make the destination of their international study a life-decision – their parents want them to come and get a New Zealand education, partly so they can work here and their parents may be able to migrate here,” says Rex.
A blueprint for success
Build and leverage local relationships. Education institutions need to sell the value of international education to local government authorities and leverage local government connections in international markets.
"A year ago the Southland Mayor and Chair of the Southland District Council Friendship Committee joined us on a trip to Thailand. This led to formal meetings, including the New Zealand ambassador, adding huge credibility to what we're trying to achieve and opening doors," says Rex.
Take an industry-led approach. Institutions need to work together to identify target markets, share expertise and pool resources.
“Previously schools struggled to effectively market themselves and attract international students alone,” says Rex. “The collaborative model has allowed them, through shared objectives and resources, to create economies of scale. Schools invest only in what they want to be part of, tailoring activity to their own needs, so smaller schools have been able to get involved.”
Look for ways to turn a perceived negative into a positive. For Education Southland it was an insight from offshore agents that students coming to study in bigger metropolitan areas around the country weren’t immersing themselves into New Zealand culture.
“While Southland was initially embarrassed by the fact that we don’t have a lot of international students, it was in fact a positive. The international students that come here actually have to speak English and from a parents perspective that means their kids will make the most of their New Zealand experience.”
Evolve to meet market needs. Take the time to learn what the market wants and ensure you’re meeting the needs of prospective students.
“Schools often only think about long-term students and the short-stay cultural study is overlooked or perceived as too much work and little benefit. We flipped this proposition on its head as the market is demanding a lot more of those short study type initiatives. By marketing the option of short-stay, we’ve been able to attract new students that may not have considered Southland otherwise, opening up relationships that can ultimately lead to longer-stay students.”
Develop and offer a pathway of progression. By developing an education pathway, international students have been able to consider on-going education and employment in New Zealand.
“As a collective we have a strong relationship with a range of tertiary institutions which has helped us to provide a pathway for international students studying at Southland secondary schools,” says Rex. “Traditionally some of the Thai students would come out and complete their NCEA level two and then go back to university in Thailand. But we’re starting to see more of those Thai kids stay on from year 13 and go to New Zealand universities.”
Create an appealing proposition. Think of how to appeal to students and their wider family, and make your destination an easy choice.
“We sell Southland as a small community so it’s very personal,” says Rex. “We really sell that you are individual and that you will develop as a whole person and not just academically. We also look for opportunities to encourage their family and friends to visit, by creating packages that make it easy for visitors to enjoy Southland.”
Education Southland is comprised of the Southern Institute of Technology, Venture Southland and seven schools offering international programmes: Southland Boys’ High School, Southland Girls’ High School and James Hargest College in Invercargill, Fiordland College in Te Anau, Central Southland College in Winton, St Peter’s College in Gore and Waihopai Primary School in Invercargill.