University considers $1m scholarship fund

LIBBY WILSON
Last updated 05:00 18/07/2014

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A $1m scholarship fund is proposed as a "powerful tool" to attract more international students to the University of Waikato.

International student numbers for Waikato peaked 10 years ago at 2920 - just over a quarter of the student population - but have steadily declined since then.

In 2013, there were 1408 international students, who contributed $26.2m in fees.

And the university may not make its international target for this year if enrolment patterns are similar to 2013.

International students were important to the university - in terms of reputation and finances - so the trend needed to be reversed, a report from chief financial officer Andrew McKinnon said.

"Scholarships seem to be a powerful tool to attract [international] students," McKinnon said.

"The fact that you've get awarded a scholarship seems to be a thing that they would like to put on their CV, they would like to tell their friends about, tell family."

A scholarship programme could help give the university a "competitive edge" in a hotly contested market and should be looked into, McKinnon said.

The topic was up for discussion at a council meeting on Wednesday, with the setting of international student tuition fees for next year.

McKinnon said a small $500 scholarship would have more value to students than a fee discount of $500.

The idea appealed to university chancellor and former Prime Minister Jim Bolger, who felt even a small scholarship would be attractive to prospective students.

Student member of the council Wei Cheng Phee, himself an international student, said another option was scholarships which offered free accommodation for a semester.

When it came to international student fees, there was a balance between creating revenue and keeping costs at an attractive level for students, McKinnon said.

"How far do you push before you get to a point where the students decide en masse ‘Oh, New Zealand is too expensive, and we're all going to Australia or we're going to Canada, or somewhere else'?"

A finance committee recommendation to increase international tuition fees by up to two per cent in 2015 was accepted by the council.

But some members were keen to see a bigger rise.

"It would be better for us to push the envelope knowing we've got an attractive package," Mike Pohio said.

He was supported by Jan Jameson, who said the university was "discounting" itself and its value with a small rise.

Phee said he didn't think fellow international students would see a 2 per cent increase as a "big deal".

With the 2 per cent fee increase, the university would also need to recruit 22 extra students to make up the $1m international scholarship fund. libby.wilson@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

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- Waikato Times

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