New Zealand ‘open door’ HE policy aims to balance emigration effect

Post-study work rights are not just about luring international enrolments, conference hears

October 13, 2018
Kiwi fans
Source: Getty

New Zealand is employing the “most progressive post-study work rights in the world” to help counteract the widespread tendency of its educated young people to leave by retaining many of its most-qualified overseas graduates, a Sydney conference has heard.

The habit of New Zealanders moving abroad is so pronounced that their Australian cousins jokingly beg the last person leaving the country to “please turn the lights out”. Brett Berquist, international director at the University of Auckland, told the Australian International Education Conference that 24 per cent of domestic PhD graduates had left the country a year after finishing their studies and that 40 per cent were gone within a decade.

But the loss was mitigated by the one-quarter of foreign doctoral students staying in the country 10 years after graduating. Their contribution to the labour market was vital in a nation with historically high employment rates and skill shortages, the event heard.

“We’re actively trying to retain doctoral graduates in [New Zealand],” Mr Berquist told a forum at the conference. “The door’s wide open.”

New Zealand’s Labour government recently opened the door a little wider with the latest revisions to post-study work rules. Foreigners automatically qualify for three years’ work rights after just a year of degree-level study now that the government has removed conditions placed on those wanting to work longer than 12 months.

The partners of overseas research students also have the right to work, and international PhD students are charged domestic-level tuition fees. “You can do a PhD at a NZ university for less than US$5,000 [£3,790] a year,” Mr Berquist said.

The open-door approach is also helping to retain international graduates of master’s and bachelor’s courses, with 31 per cent and 35 per cent, respectively, still in the country a decade later – helping to compensate for the departure of 37 per cent of domestic master’s graduates and 31 per cent of their bachelor’s degree counterparts.

Nannette Ripmeester, founding director of Expertise in Labour Mobility, a Dutch agency specialising in international graduate recruitment, told the forum that northern European governments took “more of a stick approach” to post-study work rights despite “constant problems with talent shortages”.

“The stick approach is counterproductive, particularly if you reach an economic situation where you want international talent to stay. It’s a bit difficult if your messages for a long period have been ‘please go away because you’re stealing our jobs’.”

She said that post-study work entitlement ranged from six months in Sweden to 18 months in Germany. The Netherlands allowed international students to work up to 16 hours a week during their studies, and for a year after graduating.

“We say we’d love international students to stay, but we make it pretty complicated for them to stay on. We don’t do anything to help them.

“We have a huge talent shortage, particularly in the tech and finance sectors. But there’s a slightly awkward situation where politicians don’t like too many international students because we’re afraid that they take away jobs from the Dutch. Talent shortage on the one hand, political reality on the other.”

Mr Berquist said that New Zealand’s understanding of the issue was more sophisticated, partly because of its multicultural population. He said that 40 per cent of Auckland residents had been born overseas.

“There is a higher awareness of immigration policy and of what it means in a country like [New Zealand] than anywhere else I’ve worked,” he told the forum.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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