Higher Education Strategy Associates

Tag Archives: New Zealand

November 24

Who’s More International?

We sometimes think about international higher education as being “a market”. This is not quite true: it’s actually several markets.

Back in the day, international education was mostly about graduate students; specifically, at the doctoral level. Students did their “basic” education at home and then went abroad to get research experience or simply emigrate and become part of the host country’s scientific structure. Nobody sought these students for their money; to the contrary these students were usually getting paid in some way by their host institution. They were not cash cows they did (and still do) contribute significantly to their institutions in other ways, primarily as laboratory workhorses.

In this market, the United States was long the champion since its institutions were the world’s best and could attract top students from all over the world. In absolute terms, it is still the largest importer of doctoral students. But in percentage terms, many other countries have surpassed it. Most of them, like Switzerland, are pretty small and small absolute numbers of international students nevertheless make up a huge proportion of the student body (in this case, 55%). The UK and France, however, are both relatively large markets, and despite their size they now lead the US in terms of percentage of doctoral students who are international (42 and 40% vs 35%). Canada, at 27%, is at right about the OECD average.

Figure 1: International Students at Doctoral Level as Percentage of Total

Let’s turn now to Master’s students, who most definitely *are* cash-cows. Master’s programs are short degrees, mainly acquired for professional purposes and thus people are prepared to pay a premium for good ones. The biggest market here are for fields like business, engineering and some social sciences. Education could be a very big market for international Master’s but tends not to be  because few countries (or institutions, for that matter) seem to have worked out the secret for international programs in what is, after all a highly regulated profession. In any case, this market segment is where Australia and the UK absolutely dominate, with 40 and 37% of their students being international. Again, Canada is a little bit better than the OECD average (14% vs. 12%).

Figure 2: International Students at Master’s Level as Percentage of Total

Figure 3 turns to the market which is largest in absolute terms: undergraduate students. Percentages here tend to be smaller because domestic undergraduate numbers are so large, but we’re still talking about international student numbers in the millions here. The leader here is – no, that’s not a misprint – Austria at 19% (roughly half of them come from Germany – for a brief explainer see here). Other countries at the top will look familiar (Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia) and Canada doesn’t look to bad, at 8% (which strikes me as a little low) compared to an OECD average of 5%. What’s most interesting to me is the US number: just 3%. That’s a country which – in better days anyway – has an enormous amount of room to grow its international enrollment and if it hadn’t just committed an act of immense self-harm would have be a formidable competitor for Canada for years to come.

Figure 3: International Students at Bachelor’s Level as Percentage of Total


Finally, let’s look at sub-baccalaureate credentials, or as OECD calls them, “short-cycle” programs. These are always a little bit complicated to compare because countries’ non-university higher education institutions and credentials are so different. Many countries (e.g. Germany) do not even have short-cycle higher education (they have non-university institutions, but they still give out Bachelor’s degrees). In Canada, obviously, the term refers to diplomas and certificates given out by community colleges. And Canada does reasonably well here: 9% of students are international, compared to 5% across OECD as a whole. But look at New Zealand: 24% of their college-equivalent enrollments are made up of international. Some of those will be going to their Institutes of Technology (which in general are really quite excellent), but some of this will also be students from various Polynesian nations coming to attend one of the Maori Wānanga.
Figure 4: International Students in Short-Cycle Programs as Percentage of Total


Now if you look across all these categories, two countries stand out as doing really well without being either of the “usual suspects” like Australia or the UK. One is Switzerland, which is quite understandable. It’s a small nation with a few really highly-ranked universities (especially ETH Zurich), is bordered by three of the biggest countries in the EU (Germany, France, Italy), and it provides higher education in each of their national languages. The more surprising one is New Zealand, which is small, has good higher education but no world-leading institutions, and is located in the middle of nowhere (or, at least, 5000 miles from the nearest country which is a net exporter of students). Yet they seem to be able to attract very significant (for them, anyway) numbers of international students in all the main higher education niches. That’s impressive. Canadians have traditionally focused on what countries like Australia and the UK are doing in international higher education because of their past track record. But on present evidence, it’s the Kiwis we should all be watching, and in particular their very savvy export promotion agency Education New Zealand.

Wellington, anyone?

September 26

Te Wānanga o Aotearoa

A couple of weeks ago, I promised I would tell you the story of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, the entirely Maori-run polytechnic with over 35,000 students.  So here it is.

The 1970s saw significant Aboriginal cultural revivals in many parts of the world.  Aboriginal higher education – or at least the access of aboriginal peoples to mainstream higher education – was a significant part of that.  In Canada, the struggle was mostly about gaining a foothold in mainstream institutions; in the United States, the focus was much more on creating aboriginal-controlled institutions, known as tribal colleges and universities.  In New Zealand, the Maori journey in higher education was similar to the US in that it involved creating their own separate institutions, and then later seeking recognition for them.  The result was a class of institutions called “Wānangas” (a term that roughly equates with “knowledge”).

The first Wānanga (Te Wānanga o Raukawa) focused mostly on language and culture, and had relatively small enrolments (still under 1,000).  The second, Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, was more focussed on skill acquisition – mainly Maori arts and crafts, but also with courses in tourism and computer skills.  They were a fairly marginal institution, too, until they caught a big break in the late 1980s when the Education Act was being re-written.  At the time, New Zealand’s governing Labour Party was putting the country through a major free-market revolution.  In education, that meant caring more about outcomes and outputs than about the provider’s pedigree.  It was also a time when the government was making concerted efforts to improve relations between Maori and Pakeha, and treat the Treaty of Waitangi with some respect.  And so, when it came time to write the Act, they decided to give Wānanga status as a fourth official type of tertiary education, alongside universities, polytechnics, and privates.  That guaranteed them some annual funding, but because the government was in financial straits, there was no money available for capital.                                

That’s where things got interesting.  Part of the whole return to the Treaty of Waitangi involved creating a Treaty Tribunal to adjudicate cases where Maori felt that public policy were not in keeping with the terms of the treaty.  Te Wānanga o Aotearoa decided to challenge the capital funding policy, arguing that they were a recognized form of education but had been unable to benefit, as others had, from public capital spending.  The tribunal agreed with them, handing the Wānanga what looked to be a whopping cash settlement.  Cannily, however, they played a long game and negotiated a reduced settlement on capital in exchange for a straight per-student funding agreement with – and this is crucial – no cap on numbers.

It was at this point that all manner of fun broke loose.  The funding deal allowed Te Wānanga o Aotearoa to indulge all its most entrepreneurial instincts, and the school went from having 1,000 students in 1998 to having 65,000 students in 2002.  This involved a lot of institutional change in terms of widening the scope of the types of programs it offered, and it involved a lot of community delivery – at one point they had over 300 teaching sites.  Its ability to attract significant numbers of non-Maori students – particularly recent immigrants – was another important factor.

But it also involved cutting some corners.  In 2005, the Auditor-General came down hard on the school, suggesting (basically) that while Te Wānanga o Aotearoa may have done wonders in expanding access, it would have been nice if they had kept some actual receipts for their spending.  The resultant tighter enforcement rules drove down enrolments to roughly 30,000, where they remain today.  In the short-term, that caused a bit of a financial crisis, as well as layoffs.  But in the longer term it probably made the organization stronger, and it remains by far the world’s largest aboriginal-controlled institution of higher education, delivering thousands of recognized tertiary credentials each year, including some at the Bachelor’s level.

The Wānanga model is not one we’ve adopted in Canada, but for those leaders in government and aboriginal organizations seeking to expand educational opportunities for aboriginal Canadians, there are a lot of important lessons to be drawn from Te Wānanga o Aotearoa’s experience.  We should pay heed to them.

September 05

Better Know a Higher Ed System: New Zealand

We don’t hear much up here about New Zealand higher education, mainly because the country’s tiny, and literally located at the end of the earth.  But that’s a pity, because it’s an interesting system with a lot to like about it.

The country’s university system is pretty ordinary: eight universities, three of which were founded in the 19th century, and the rest founded after WWII. All of them are pretty much based on English lines, with just one – Auckland – generally considered to be “world-class”.  Rather, what makes New Zealand an interesting higher education system is what happens outside the universities.

About 30 years ago, New Zealand came close to bankruptcy; in response, the government moved to sharply liberalize the economy.  In education, this meant eliminating established educational monopolies, and widening the ability to provide education: anyone who wanted to deliver a degree or a diploma could do so, provided they could meet an independent quality standard.  Polytechnics – equivalent to our colleges – started offering degrees (in the process becoming an inspiration to our own colleges, some of whom proceeded to push for their own degree-granting status, and labelled themselves “polytechnics”), and hundreds of private providers started offering diplomas.  Despite this liberalization, the system is still able to enforce a qualifications framework, which allows people to stack lower-level qualifications towards higher-level ones – and that’s down to having a serious high-quality regulator in the New Zealand Qualifications Authority.

Another major system feature are the “wānangas”.  The term is a Maori word indicating traditional knowledge, but in practice the term has come to mean “Maori polytechnic” (the country’s universities all use the term “Whare Wānanga” – meaning “place of learning” – to translate their names into Maori).  There are three of these, two of which are tiny (less than 500 students), and one of which is freaking massive (38,000 today, down from a peak of 65,000 ten years ago). I’ll tell you the story of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa another time, because it deserves its own blog post.  But for the moment just keep in mind that in New Zealand, wānangas are considered the fourth “pillar” of higher education (along with universities, polytechnics, and privates), and that these institutions, entirely run by Maori, have had an enormously positive impact on Maori educational attainment rates (see this previous blog for stats on that).

A last point to note about NZ is its international strategy.  Like our government, New Zealand’s aims in this area are pretty mercantilist: students in = money in = good.  It could not possibly care less about outward mobility or other touchy-feely stuff.  What distinguishes their strategy from ours, however, is that theirs is smart.  Brilliant, actually.  Take a couple of minutes to compare Canada’s laughably thin and one-dimensional policy with Education New Zealand’s unbelievably detailed set of strategies, goals, and tactics laid out not just for the country as a whole, but for each of six key sub-sectors: universities, colleges, privates, primary/secondary schools, English language sector, and educational service/product providers.  That, my friends, is a strategy.  Now ask yourself: why we can’t produce something that good?

In short, there’s a lot Canadians could learn from New Zealand – if only we paid more attention.

September 04

Too Much Peer Review?

One way in which Canada stands out internationally in higher education is our ultra-reliance on individual peer review as a means of allocating research funding. While peer review is in many ways the “gold standard” of research assessment mechanisms, it has the drawback of being incredibly time-consuming, both for the applicant and for the assessors.

What’s the alternative, though? Well, as Paula Stephan points out in her quite excellent book How Economics Shape Science, there are a number of ways that are in use in other countries.

The most common is block grants and assessments. This system plays a role in the funding of many European systems of education as well as Australia and New Zealand. Under this system, money is awarded based on assessments not of individual but of departmental performance. This is usually done through some mix of peer review with a heavy dose of bibliometric analysis.

This system doesn’t completely supplant individual peer review in those countries – they have granting councils like ours, too, though they tend to be smaller. Rather, these block grants cover some portion of materials costs as well as supporting that portion of professors’ salaries which pay for research time. In Canada, we don’t even think of these monies as “research funding” because of the way they are built into the grants universities receive from provinces. By international standards, the Canadian equivalent of the European/Antipodean “block grant and assessment” system should really be called “block grant and no assessment.”

Another approach which has gained favour recently is the use of prizes, where institutions compete to achieve a major scientific task. Though the most famous of these (e.g., the Google Lunar X Prize, the Archon X Prize) usually involve philanthropic money, various agencies of the U.S. government have established over 50 such prizes to spur scientific efforts. Using prizes is obviously only effective in limited circumstances, but they have their uses.

Perhaps none of these methods is as good as peer review, but they do all require professors to spend a lot less time writing grant applications. Given how big a concern that is among Canadian scientists these days, maybe we ought to consider adopting a few of these methods to simplify life. For instance, if a researcher is a demonstrably excellent one – say, if they are one of 12-13% or so whose H-index score is twice the average for their field (data suitably age-adjusted, etc.), why not just give them $100,000 a year and eliminate the hassle of applications? In NSERC disciplines the likelihood is they’d get that much anyway.

Bibliometrics aren’t just for nerds. They can save a lot of time and money, too, if we let them.

April 23

Good Governance and Student Unions

Some interesting news from New Zealand recently, where a bill on Voluntary Student Unionism recently became law. Basically, what this means is that student unions there won’t be able to collect automatic membership dues, the way ours do – rather, they’ll need to raise their money directly through voluntary contributions from students. This isn’t unprecedented – Australia’s Liberal government did the same thing in 2005, and the results weren’t pretty.

Why hasn’t such an idea come to Canada? I’ve been told by reasonably reliable sources that it actually was on the table during Ontario’s Rae Review in 2004, but was left out of the final report. It’s certainly easy to see that as in Australia and New Zealand, the impetus for such a move is likeliest to come from a right-wing government under constant attack from student unions (Quebec, anyone?). But there would need to be a pretext for such a measure – and a good financial or voting manipulation scandal is probably the likeliest route.

These, unfortunately, are a bit too common for comfort in Canada. Concordia’s student union’s travails are beyond parody, but are still nothing compared to those at Kwantlen. And that’s all in addition to the shenanigans that have been ably documented by student union guru Titus Gregory in his magnum opus Solidarity for Their Own Good.

Most student unions, of course, are run ably and democratically. Levels of professionalism vary but that’s to be expected in any youth-run organization. The Unions at Western and U of A, for instance, regularly produce great executives, and the standard at the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance is also unfailingly high. The worry is that a few bad eggs might spoil the party for everyone else. Make no mistake, voluntary student unionism would be devastating for campus activities and would have all sorts of negative knock-ons as far as student engagement was concerned.

I wonder if student unions might inoculate themselves against this kind of thing by coming up with a self-imposed process of accreditation which would certify adherence to standards of good governance. Apart from any inherent good such a process would bring to participating unions, it would ensure that anyone wanting to regulate the field wouldn’t be able to tar all student unions with the same brush.

Alarmist? Maybe. But it’s one of those things: if you delay implementation until a crisis actually hits, it will already be too late.

March 23

Bibliometrics, Part the First

The shock and horror generated by proposals of teaching-only universities makes it pretty clear that most of Canadian academia thinks that research is important. So important, indeed, that we want every professor to devote 40% of his or her time (under the 40-40-20 rule) to it.

Now, that’s a pretty serious commitment. Even before you get to the costs of graduate students, research grants and research infrastructure, 40% of staff time equals $2 billion/year on research.

So why do we spend so little time measuring its impact?

Oh, we’re all big on measuring inputs, I know – it’s hard to go a week without some communications office telling you how successful their institution is in getting tri-council grants. But presumably the sign of a good university isn’t how much money you get, but what you do with it. In a word, outputs.

Some countries have some extraordinary ways of measuring these. Take New Zealand’s Performance-Based Research Fund Assessment, for instance. This involves having researchers in every department put together portfolios of their work which are then peer-assessed by committees made up of local and international experts. There’s a lot to recommend this approach in terms of its use of peer evaluators, but it’s really expensive, costing something like 15% of the annual research budget in a given year (the equivalent in Canada would be about $400 million, though presumably there would be some economies of scale that would bring the cost down a bit). As a result, they only do it every six years.

The alternative, of course, is bibliometrics; that is, using data on publications and citations to measure research output. It’s in use across much of Europe and Asia, but is comparatively underused here in Canada.

Of course, as with any system of measurement, there are good and bad ways of using bibliometric data. Not all of the ways in which bibliometrics have been used make sense – in fact, some are downright goofy. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be demystifying the use of bibliometrics, to help you distinguish the good from the bad, the useful to the not-so-useful, and provide some food for thought about how they can be used in institutional management.

But there is one use of research metrics that I can tell you about right now. In next week’s Globe and Mail, HESA presents a list of Canada’s most distinguished academics, by field of study, based on a joint measure of publications and citations known as the “H-Index.” Take a look at Tuesday’s Report on Business and let us know what you think.