Waiariki Bay of Plenty Polytechnic was one of two institutes in New Zealand chosen to have its programmes, systems and processes studied by China's higher learning institutes last week.

Here as part of a leadership development and exchange programme between China and New Zealand, the group has been exploring vocational and industrial areas in order to strengthen the developments in teaching, learning and industry engagement at their respective institutions as China seeks to modernise its professional and vocational education and training.

"We are proud to have hosted a visiting Chinese delegation this week, who toured our institute and local industry. This visit is the first of its kind in New Zealand," said the polytechnic's international education director, Graeme Rennie.

The 17 Chinese representatives are a mix of presidents and vice presidents - many of them also professors - from successful and award-winning vocational and technical colleges.

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The exchange is part of a two-week programme organised by Waiariki Bay of Plenty Polytechnic (WBoPP) and Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec) on behalf of New Zealand's tertiary institutes, and sponsored by the Chinese Ministry of Education, the China Education Association for International Exchange (CEAIE), and Education New Zealand.

Mr Zhao Juli, president of Xi' and Aeronautical Polytechnic Institute, said: "What we wanted was an overview of the New Zealand education system, to understand the higher education system and the vocational education system, the NZQA framework that we have to work towards, and also from the institution point of view, how we implement those strategies."

Strategies and planning were frequently visited topics during the week, as was the student experience.

"We talked a lot about the student-centric learning but student-centric learning is not only about the teaching," said He Qin, president of Shandong Polytechnic.

"It also relates to all of the facilities [at WBoPP], how you design them, how you have the social areas for the students, why you have Wi-Fi, what kind of curriculum you decide [to develop], what kind of teaching resources you have. Everything is student-centric learning and it's very, very different to what we have in China. You are very much into the details, down to everything."

Sui Bi Xia, professor and vice president, Changzhou College of Information Technology, agrees the student focus is apparent in nearly every aspect of planning and management at WBoPP and she was impressed by the level of dedication demonstrated by tutors.

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"The teachers are not here just to teach, they really want to see the students succeed so [the teaching] is from the heart. It's actually not just from talking and teaching, it is actually from the heart that they are really motivated to help the students. This is surprising."

After a week of tours, visits, presentations and in-depth discussions with WBoPP, the delegates are now following a similar schedule at Wintec.

"We all have the same direction but how we achieve these outcomes is different because we are different countries," says Zhousuo Wang, president and professor, Yangling Vocational and Technical College.