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Christchurch City Scene
November 2003

Lead Stories

Central city bus changes

A lesson for education sector

Decision expected soon on pipe route

Hagley Avenue improvements

Big cities survey rates Christchurch

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A lesson for education sector

Education has become a very important part of the Canterbury economy.

It is likely to be more so in future. Already, selling education to overseas students has become a major industry in New Zealand. Canterbury and Christchurch have got a large slice of the total national market, with about 20 per cent, or a fifth, of all international students coming here to learn. Last year, international students contributed $202 million in fees and accommodation alone.

It is an area with strong potential that has also shown some cases of "speed wobbles" as the industry starts to move into a more mature phase.

The education industry recently held a conference here in Christchurch to look at ways of improving itself in ways that will help provide sustainable growth and success in the future.

As a keynote speaker, I was asked to talk on the theme of the importance to Canterbury of the international education industry. I opted to turn this theme upside down and instead talked about the importance of Canterbury to the international student industry.

I thought it was better to start by pointing out that our importance globally as educators could be summed up as "not very much at all". I said how, in current slang terms, Canterbury wasn't "even on the radar" in the global market and suggested that this was a lesson that educators, planners, politicians and everyone else involved with the industry needed to keep in mind.

As a parent, I also raised the point that if we want the international education industry to stay well and grow we also need to remember the fact that there is a moral and human dimension to all this.

As an industry it has become very easy to be blinded by the huge amounts of money it is making for the local economy. We need to keep in mind that we are not just dealing with people, we are dealing with very young people.

As a region and city we are effectively being entrusted by people living far away with both the education and the care of their children. That is a high level of trust and expectation.

I told the conference that I believe they should be willing to take a look at the question of how well the care we offer compares against that we would want for our own children. I think it is a very important question and answer.

As an accountant I have been fascinated in recent years to see what areas of the world economy have done well in a time of major international turbulence. It has been very easy for Kiwis to tune out the economic woes of the rest of the developed world but they have been deep and protracted. Our economy has been humming along at a time when many of our major trading partners have been slow and erratic. For anyone with income from returns from shares and investments, the slump in returns in recent years has been hard and all the more bitter coming after a protracted buoyant global economy.

I told the conference that one of the few general exceptions in the poor recent returns had been those coming from what are called ethically managed funds. That is, funds that in various ways invest only in concerns that take steps to not exploit areas such as the environment, their staff or, indeed, their shareholders. These funds appear to perform better in part because they are ethically based.

I made the point in my speech that we need to try and apply this spirit of fairness as an investment factor to how we carry on with the education industry in the future; that, in short, we need to keep the human face of our education students in mind. And that of their parents and families. It is not only the right thing to do, it is also a commitment that will have major implications for the Christchurch economyin future years.

As part of general planning for our future we have looked in recent years at what areas are likely to best help us turn Christchurch into a sustainable, prosperous city that can also hold on to the best of what we already enjoy.

Education has come up as one of the key areas that holds this promise. We have had a time of explosive growth in the international education market, which is now leading us into a maturing phase. How we manage this phase is going to prove crucial to building on the gains of recent years. Like most of our "problems" at present in Christchurch, the problems are those of growth.

My lesson to the educators was that aswe adapt to this growth we must also make sure we hold onto the very generosity of spirit and care that has made Christchurch such an attractive place to live, learn and visit.

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