Slashing fees and attracting foreign doctoral students

New Zealand has deliberately courted foreign PhD students by subsidising them as if they were New Zealanders, allowing universities to charge them the same fees as locals since the subsidy was introduced in 2006. Recently the country announced a marketing drive backed by millions of dollars to attract more international students.

Foreign PhD students are not eligible for government student loans or allowances but, with fees between NZ$5,000 and $6,000 (US$4,100 and $4,980) a year, they are paying less than a fifth what their compatriots are paying for undergraduate and non-doctoral postgraduate study.

The aim of the policy is to attract the best international students, and encourage PhD graduates to stay on and find jobs in New Zealand's academic and research labour markets.

As a result, the number of foreign PhD students leaped from 692 in 2005 to 3,135 in 2011, when they accounted for 39% of the country’s doctoral students.

Although the policy has been a success in attracting more foreign PhD students to New Zealand, nobody is sure how many choose to stay in the country once they have gained their doctorate.

The Department of Labour says about one in five former international students take up residence in New Zealand within five years of receiving their first student visa, but it has no figures solely for PhD students.

However, the Graduate Longitudinal Study run by New Zealand’s eight universities last year reported that half of all international PhD students planned to stay and work over the next two years. That compared with about 80% of domestic PhD students intending to remain, while about 44% of all international and domestic doctoral students planned to work overseas.

The study also found that foreign PhD students have a slightly different profile to their domestic peers.

Slightly more than half (55%) are male and they have a median age of 30-34. New Zealand PhD students have a median age of 35-39 and only 42% are male. Of the international PhD students in New Zealand, 41% come from Asia, 19% from Europe, and 17% from the Americas.

Universities New Zealand, which represents the eight universities, says the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment have advised that they are planning long-term research on foreign PhD student retention.

New marketing initiative

Meanwhile, late last month Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Steven Joyce announced that the government had committed NZ$40 million (US$32 million) in its new budget to promote New Zealand in key markets such as China, India, South East Asia and South America.

He said that the government's goal was to more than double the value of the international education sector to NZ$5 billion by 2025.

Last week Joyce told parliament: “The government’s internationally focused growth package of $400 million over four years includes an investment of $40 million to market and promote New Zealand’s international education industry.

“In 2012 there were nearly 100,000 enrolments of international students in New Zealand, and the industry contributed more than NZ$2 billion to our economy and supported around 32,000 jobs.”

He said in answer to parliamentary questions that the government had “identified international education as an important area for growth”. The internationally focused fund would enable the education industry to market New Zealand in new and developing markets.