Alice Wang: More overseas students ensures the best

Universities with a global make-up and outlook give their students advantages in a competitive world. Photo / Greg Bowker
Universities with a global make-up and outlook give their students advantages in a competitive world. Photo / Greg Bowker

It is disappointing to know that in 2014, people still see the world through an "us" versus "them" lens.

The view expressed by Labour MP Shane Jones that opening the doors of our universities to international students may come at the expense of Kiwi students feels like a typical knee-jerk reaction.

I disagree that a "foreign warehouse" would compromise the quality of education received by Kiwi students. In fact, I believe the opposite: universities that embrace a global presence and recognise the value of our Asia-Pacific neighbours would serve our students best. There are many reasons why this is so.

First, international students enable New Zealand universities to expand and develop their programmes and facilities. Mr Jones seems to brush this concern off, but it's no secret New Zealand universities are heavily underfunded when compared to their overseas (especially Australian and American) counterparts.

New Zealand universities need to attract international students to make up for their funding shortfalls. The reality is that international students enable them to deliver the world-class education that we expect from them and to better cater to their own students.

And in light of the new university rankings, which have seen New Zealand rankings drop while those in Asia continue to rise, we are fortunate students in Asia continue to see New Zealand as a destination for higher education.

Second, international students bring diversity and a new perspective to our communities. Their presence lets Kiwi students broaden their understanding of the world, and develop a tolerance and respect for other cultures.

This is particularly invaluable from a commercial point of view, as it makes Kiwi graduates more competitive in the international arena and enables them to do business and build relationships with organisations around the world.

The world's top universities exemplify the melting pot of cultures, where having a broad mix of international students is quickly becoming the norm.

One could hardly say the influx of international students makes these universities worse - it is the ability to tap into global networks that makes these universities so invaluable.

Finally, international students contribute in a significant way to New Zealand's future relationship with Asia and the world. Senator Fulbright once commented that educational exchanges make the closest ties, as they can "turn nations into people, contributing as no other form of communication can to the humanising of international relations".

If we shut our doors and refuse to embrace the richness and opportunity offered by the international community, there will certainly be no room for Kiwis at any "intellectual" inn.

Alice Wang is a former member of the University of Auckland Council, a current member of the Asia New Zealand Leadership Network and a New Zealand Rhodes Scholar-elect 2014.

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