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Much is written on the competitive pressure from other nations in attracting Asian students to study in their respective countries, whether at high school or tertiary level. However, this is not easily scalable and the high dollar does not help either. Other nations have long been focused in the opposite direction – exporting their education. 
With so much written on New Zealand wanting to be an exporter of knowledge and expertise the education sector offers significant opportunities – perhaps we should be looking at other’s success in this field and learning from them.
The pool of Asian students whose parents have the necessary funds to send their students abroad is relatively small. Of this pool, a great many parents have absolutely no intention of sending their cherished ones to study abroad. No different to a New Zealand parent considering the same.
In addition, while many students desire Western-style education, there is a surprising amount already available right on their doorstep. This reduces the appeal (and cost) of travelling abroad and actually opens up a much wider segment for New Zealand institutions to target.
The number of students attracted into universities, such as Stanford from the USA, is a good example. They have two campuses in Thailand – one delivers in Thai and the other 100 percent in English. It’s a well respected international brand on the ground in Bangkok delivering in-market Western-style education to thousands of students every day. Not only do they attract Thai students but also others from neighbouring countries who are just a couple of hours flight away. 
Other universities in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Vietnam have developed strong partnerships with various Western universities offering a wide range of study in their home market and abroad. 
Many educationalists in New Zealand seem to be missing this key dynamic, whereas other nations have been investing heavily for many years. The university system in New Zealand appears to have an internal conflict in leveraging the “in-market Western style education” opportunity. One senior department head last year noted the difficulty in backing forays overseas as staff could not then meet their research and publication requirements – part of their employment conditions. In addition, he felt many were not interested in going to some “obscure place in Asia where delivery was always so much harder and the results more difficult to define.” New Zealand appears caught in the paradigm of self imposed limitation, while Australia and the UK in particular appear to lead the charge in delivering in-market education.
Another commented they found it very difficult to find Asian universities that met their standard to “allow” their curriculum to be delivered in-market. With so many notable Western universities already delivering in the region, why does New Zealand struggle in this regard? If we look at the activities of Australia with Monash, Curtin and Swinburne or the UK with Newcastle and Nottingham, all with their own campuses in Malaysia (and the many others without real estate delivering con-joint degrees across the region), then how have they made this work?
Perhaps we are trying to engage with the top tier universities in various countries who are spoiled for choice? As we are further down the global university rankings, are we missing the opportunity to engage with universities of a similar size, scale and capability? Again, this is no different to other businesses. Many businesses entering Asia only want to deal with the best distributors, but if their product, price or volume is low there is often simply no match and this is clearly articulated. By comparison, “educationalists are often reserved and polite so will talk and talk but no deal ever gets done” – the words of a dean from one UK university at a function in Singapore. “Universities are complex businesses and need to be driven if they are to remain relevant in this fast changing world.”
Where to start?
Many universities started by having staff in-market and forging strong relationships across the region. Their entire focus from the start was to market their institution locally and grow their in-market offering while establishing their brand. They have strong businesses in the region and have developed a steady flow of students back home – “a very nice bonus but not our reason for being here” one noted. This was not achieved overnight but over a number of years as they established a presence and earned the trust of many other local institutions in the region that influence students’ decisions on their career path.
This in-market representation is one of the most obvious. If you abdicate the marketing of your product, be it education, F&B or widgets to an agent without some sort of overarching in-market support and monitoring, then you become a victim of the “daily deal syndrome.” 
Education fairs are all very good, but running one or two during the year at times students are deemed to be focusing on international education possibilities simply does not work in isolation; they must be part of a clearly defined in-market strategy. Otherwise, initial interest is established, a fledgling relationship starts but our institutions are then gone, promising to return in six months time. Down the road, competitor institutions continue to quietly build their brand presence in town, providing trusted advice and gaining significant market intelligence. They are not seen as an agent making money, but solving education needs. Indeed, many then work through an agent on the visa and logistics side, thus establishing a strong local footprint. 
Some successes
Of course there are success stories from New Zealand. Auckland Uni Services clearly has a strong level of funding and commitment with business development people active in multiple regions on a regular basis. Massey University and AUT have been active in-market from time to time, as have others. Educational institutes are not unlike any other company and must understand that business relationships in Asia are won over time. They must leverage their presence just like any other business. We see our own Education New Zealand (ENZ) working on this with several people based in various markets to support education fairs with NZTE as they tell the New Zealand story. 
However, this is, in part, another limiting paradigm. We then go back to selling “come to New Zealand” – whereas we should be selling our great educational system and offering to deliver it right on their doorstep. A handful of people from ENZ and NZTE cannot achieve what hundreds are doing here in-market from many institutions around the world, every single day, right now!
‘Find out what your customer actually wants and then over deliver’ is the fundamental rule of business. The majority of Asian parents and students would not consider (or afford) education in New Zealand, Australia, UK, or anywhere else for that matter – but a great many do want Western-style education. So let’s just give them what they want.
Greg Reynolds is a director of – an Asian market entry and business development consultancy based in Bangkok and covering the wider ASEAN region.
Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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