Wintec wins 5-year contract to jointly run Saudi colleges

EXPORT EDUCATION: Wintec chief executive Mark Flowers, left, recently signed the contracts for the colleges in Saudi Arabia.
EXPORT EDUCATION: Wintec chief executive Mark Flowers, left, recently signed the contracts for the colleges in Saudi Arabia.

Wintec has received the "tremendous endorsement" of being chosen to jointly operate three vocational training colleges in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

And it has further plans to take its education outside New Zealand's borders.

The institute of technology won a contract to run the cluster of Colleges of Excellence (COE) in western Saudi Arabia alongside Spanish group Mondragon Educacion Internacional.

COE are set up to offer vocational training programmes to upskill the Saudi workforce to meet the needs of their job market.

They are built and owned by the Saudi government and the bulk of the teaching is in English. Wintec had been interested in the project since the first wave of tenders for international operators went out last year.

"Winning this bid is a tremendous endorsement of Wintec. Organisations from around the world are competing for this opportunity," chief executive Mark Flowers said.

Wintec is the first New Zealand educational organisation to secure such a contract in Saudi Arabia and Flowers said the national, government-supported approach was a drawcard.

"They're really trying a pretty major education change programme, which is good to be involved in. It's a pretty extensive programme. It's pretty ambitious what the Saudis are trying to do."

Saudi Arabia was heavily dependent on immigrant labour and the government was aiming to upskill the next generation to change that, Flowers said.

The cluster Wintec was involved in was expected to open in September.

Wintec formed a partnership with Mondragon - which already runs a COE - after discussions when they found they "really clicked" and shared values.

Mondragon brought its international reputation and experience in the Saudi environment, and Wintec offered expertise in areas such as English language and health studies.

The two organisations were to set up a jointly owned company for the colleges, including a local Saudi company with a minor partnership, Flowers said.

Over time, the number of Saudi staff would increase, and those teaching there could include Saudi students who had studied degrees in New Zealand, he said.

The Saudi colleges would offer mainly diploma level courses and most Saudi students who came to New Zealand were studying for degrees.

The net benefit from the joint venture deal between Wintec and Mondragon was likely to be in the millions of dollars during the five-year contract, Wintec said. Gains would be invested in Wintec programmes, services and facilities in New Zealand and to "reinvest in international education opportunities".

But for Flowers the move was about about making the most of new opportunities in the Middle East, which fitted in with Wintec's internationalisation strategy and "modern approach".

The Government was also keen to increase export education as a part of New Zealand's economy, he said.

"You can approach it by saying ‘Well, we'll just get more and more students coming to New Zealand'. But we don't think in the longer run that's the solution. Countries just can't afford to keep sending people here all the time. Over time they want to do what the Saudis are doing, which is have their own institutions. So we need to be part of it in other countries." And Wintec was keen to pick up further colleges in Saudi Arabia once it had set up the structure and got staff based there, Flowers said.

The institute was also looking at setting up a college within Chengdu University in central China "and there may be other countries we'll look at".

In the long term it would look towards South America, where its association with Mondragon could prove useful.