The fiction behind our foreign student education sector
OPINION: Imagine you are deciding how and where to educate your young adult.
Your teenager has chosen an area of study which may not be particularly demanding but, like most white collar jobs, still requires good writing and oral language skills.
So where to study? What about a good local tertiary facility where your budding student will know the customs and language and where they have the best chance of excelling as well as developing socially and finding their feet?
No, not good enough. You decide instead to send your offspring to a foreign country where they will struggle with the spoken language, let alone its academic form, and where they will get a qualification of little use at home and even less use in the country in which they study. They also might feel unwelcome and will be regarded suspiciously.
* Linguis International Institute overcrowded and underperforming
* Linguis International Institute under investigation, visas on hold
* Call to limit student visas after 'inappropriate' language testing
* South Auckland tertiary institute deregistered by NZQA
* International students sit and suffer afraid of health care costs
As a New Zealand parent it wouldn't cross your mind to support that path for your young adult.
But if you are a parent in places like India and China that is apparently the way you think. That your offspring will do better learning a possibly difficult discipline or skill in a foreign language in a country which is alien to them.
Except of course that's not what they really think. The reasoning that New Zealand offers a valuable education worth all the possible disadvantages is a fiction.
The parents are really thinking that a student visa is the best chance their family member has of getting residency in a country which is regarded, well, almost as good as the United States or Canada or Australia.
But it is the fiction that underlies much of the foreign student education industry in New Zealand and one that we should dispel urgently.
Everyone gets a raw deal except the school owners who rake in the fees and other little earners on the side. All too many of the students cheat, the teachers turn a blind eye and the managers keep recruiting because they know education is not really what their students want.
A recent study by Immigration New Zealand of 66 Indian graduates, who had been accepted to bachelor level courses in private institutions, showed that some could not name a single subject they had studied and one student could not be interviewed without an interpreter.
Once in New Zealand the so-called students survive by doing unskilled jobs competing with locals and keeping pay rates low.
Perhaps as a symptom of this, over the last few months I've seen young Indian men doing security work, waiting on tables and cleaning buildings.
I went to Auckland last week and a friend knows the head tutor at a well known chef course. Just about his whole class are foreign students, most of whom have no intention of being chefs.
Now I don't want to malign the whole education industry and no doubt many super intelligent and hard working foreign students come to study at New Zealand universities and other tertiary facilities, master the language quickly and do very well.
But what about all the disasters that the The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) seems finally to be tackling.
This week it cancelled the Linguis International Institute's registration because of serious concerns about educational performance and compliance with NZQA rules.
It cited problems with marking, students' poor English-language skills and widespread evidence of high rates of cheating. The school had about 1000 mainly Chinese and Indian students enrolled in mainly business courses at its peak.
The authority noted the school's academic staff didn't even seem to know what plagiarism was.
In January, Auckland's Aotearoa Tertiary Institute, which had 200 foreign students enrolled was deregistered and late last year another Auckland institution, IANZ, was sold after the authority warned the school it was considering deregistration because of alleged dishonesty, poor governance and management.
All very well but how many students have these so called educational institutes churned out with worthless qualifications before they were sprung. I guess it doesn't really matter because the qualifications were not really the point anyway.
The Government has tightened up the requirements for student visas but again you wonder how robust the process is. In 2016 Immigration New Zealand (INZ) approved 7562 student visas from India and rejected 8818. For China the figures were 8149 approved and 649 rejected.
It would be nice to think the authority has beefed up its checks and inspections but even with crack teams it can only do so much. The foreign student education sector would certainly not be lobbying for tough oversight.
And what about the overall compromises made by an education sector desperate to attract full fee paying students to augment budgets.
I wonder how well they manage the conflict of interest between needing the full fee business and maintaining academic standards. It's no surprise academics keep complaining about plunging standards and pressures to pass students who shouldn't be in the institution in the first place.
Educating foreign students is worth billions of dollars to New Zealand but many of those dollars are based on a fiction and we should be ashamed to be connected with it.