I came to New Zealand as an international student. I didn’t come here with the intention of staying on and settling in New Zealand, but that’s how life worked out for me. I got an excellent education, a job straight after university and the rest, as they say, is history.
Many international students come to New Zealand for a good education, a decent job and the opportunity to settle in a beautiful country. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, the Labour Party has always supported export education. Done well, the international education experience is beneficial to students and lucrative for New Zealand.
However, for too many international students their migration experience is fraught with anxiety and broken dreams. Too many end up with a substandard qualification that doesn’t get them a decent job in New Zealand or back home. Many families take on significant debt to give their children the opportunity to study in New Zealand.
I have spoken to many students who were ‘sold’ a picture of New Zealand by offshore education agents that was completely different to the reality they experienced when they arrived in New Zealand. I have heard so many stories of international student life that are so different to what I experienced. Students who work one day a week and work six days; students who have fallen into hardship and are unable to feed themselves; a girl who slept on park benches because she didn’t realise how expensive New Zealand is and ran out of money. Ten students sharing a small, cold flat, forced into jobs that pay under the table just to survive.
In recent years there has been a substantial increase in low-level study and reports of sham courses being used as a route to work and eventual residency. Many international students don’t realise that these courses are sub standard till they get to New Zealand – and then it’s too late. Allowing this to continue is unfair and treats international students as cash cows.
Labour will require courses to be high-quality, and disincentivise study in low-level courses. Substandard education is unfair to international students and damages New Zealand’s reputation internationally.
There is no change proposed for high-quality lower-level courses or for students studying at the Bachelor level or higher. Also, the charges will not affect students who are already here; they will only apply to new students.
The Labour Party grew out of a Labour movement born in social injustice. The Labour Party’s identity is mired in fighting injustice to create a fairer New Zealand. Export education is the fifth largest export sector. However, that’s no excuse to turn a blind eye to the injustices within the industry that exploit international students. Labour will address these because it’s the right thing to do.