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More scope for NZ universities to attract Chinese students, Lincoln marketer says

Friday 2nd September 2016

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New Zealand’s eight universities still have capacity for a growing number of Chinese students, according to a marketing executive at Lincoln University who is tasked with attracting more enrollments from the world’s most-populous nation.

New Zealand attracted 5,804 students from China in the year ended July 31, government data shows, up 15 percent from the same period in 2015 and 41 percent higher than in 2014. That’s still less than the 10,000 mark Lincoln University's director of greater China, Jeff Sun, says is the most New Zealand could cope with.

Sun said the number of Chinese students peaked in 2001 and 2002 at around 20,000 when New Zealand’s relatively weak dollar and its early move in opening access to international students tapped into a growing appetite for Chinese to study abroad. The SARS virus combined with a stronger currency saw those numbers taper off, and they only started turning back around in 2010.

“Because we are a very small country, we only have eight universities, my personal view is the maximum we can only host is 10,000 Chinese students,” Sun said. “Otherwise, we don’t have space.”

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce has been targeting international students as a source of export earnings, allowing them to work part and full-time in a bid to almost double the nation’s income from them to $5 billion by 2025 from 2013.

That focus has bolstered migration flows to record levels in recent years, with rapid gains in the number of Indian students, some of whom secured visas through agents using fake documents and are now facing deportation.

Lincoln has been trying to lure Chinese students to New Zealand since 2000 and has found its agricultural focus has been a sticking point in attracting Chinese, with parents taking a dim view of rural services.

The Christchurch-based university’s ties with China include a research agreement with dairy processor Yili Industrial Group, memorandums of understanding with China’s Henan Agricultural University and Zhongkai University of Agriculture and Engineering, and showcasing some of is technology to President Xi Jinping during his visit to New Zealand in 2014.

Lincoln markets itself as New Zealand’s specialist land-based university, and highlights agri-business training to counter those opinions, which Sun says has been slowly shifting as China repositions its economic priorities to include environmental concerns.

“We can see the trend, Chinese used to study commerce or business or IT, but now something has changed” and food science, viticulture, landscape architecture, the environment have become more popular, Sun said. “We are small, but we have the niche market.”

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