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Universities lukewarm on new website aimed at foreign students

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Topics might include geothermal energy, archaeology and sports leadership.
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Universities are not convinced they need to be part of a new national website that will offer online courses to foreign students.

Government agency Education New Zealand has spent $1.7 million on the project, most of it on a website and course software that universities, private institutions and the national polytechnic, Te Pūkenga, can use from March.

Education NZ sector engagement general manager Wendy Kerr said the plan was to offer courses in fields New Zealand had recognised expertise.

“What we didn’t want to do was compete head-on with Harvard or Oxford because they are world-leaders in certain areas,” she said.

“New Zealand’s a world-leader in certain areas as well, so what we’re doing with our own platform is really focusing on the things that New Zealand does best – so that if you want learn from an expert in New Zealand because you know we’re world-class in that, then of course you’re going to come to this platform and learn there.”

Kerr said areas of strength might include geothermal energy, archaeology and sports leadership.

Education NZ spent $430,000 trialling online courses through an e-learning company called FutureLearn and had so far spent a further $1.3m buying an online course system and developing its own website to host it.

“We’ve now started building our own platform which will be branded with New Zealand education, and we’re using an existing learning management system and rebranding it with our branding and our frontend so that when people come to it they’ll see that it’s a New Zealand site, and there will be courses just from New Zealand providers on there.”

Kerr said the site would launch in March, and based on past experience the target market would be working people in English-speaking countries, a different group to the current focus on young Asian students.

She said a lot of providers were interested in running courses through the site.

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  • Universities New Zealand chief executive Chris Whelan said universities were taking a wait-and-see approach.

    “We don’t see the need for one centrally run, New Zealand-branded platform because it’s individual universities bringing students into their own particular programme. It doesn’t mean however that it’s not sensible for us to look at having common platforms.”

    Whelan said universities wanted to diversify their foreign enrolments, but they saw more opportunity in the approach they used in the past two-and-a-half years with students stuck overseas because of pandemic border restrictions.

    “They’re more likely to be in terms of still bringing students to New Zealand but doing more of their education actually offshore. So perhaps their first or second year at home via distance, and then one or two years here to finish off so they get that all-important experience of studying, living and working in an English-speaking country.”

    Te Pūkenga deputy chief executive learner and employer experience and attraction, Andrew McSweeney, said Education NZ had been in contact with the national vocational education and training organisation about its plans.

    “Some of our business divisions have done similar work and we are exploring what involvement we might be able to provide.”

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