17 November 2021

International education drives soft power in offshore markets

People & Culture

International students who have an amazing experience in New Zealand, develop a life-long bond with the country and often go on to become some of our most enthusiastic advocates on the world stage.

Former Ambassador to Brazil Caroline Bilkey knows this only too well. She says our strong reputation in international education is a “success story” which pays dividends down the line, as former students happily help to build our profile globally.

In her role progressing New Zealand interests offshore, Ms Bilkey has seen first-hand the benefits of working within networks of local people who studied in New Zealand.

“Not only is their experience in New Zealand a great conversation starter, but it also means you are more likely to be given the benefit of the doubt, and the person may be more willing to advocate your issue with their peers, because they know and like New Zealand, having studied there.”

Trade and business can benefit from link to international education

With more than 30 years’ experience with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and multiple offshore postings, Ms Bilkey knows of countless instances where trade and business have benefited from a direct, or indirect, link to a former international student’s New Zealand education experience.

One such example is an Argentinian-Brazilian woman who returned to Brazil after studying in Auckland, to work for Fonterra and Zespri. Ms Bilkey describes the woman as “able to talk enthusiastically about the New Zealand story behind the products coming in”.

She believes there is something “quite special” about the links built through international education, largely because students are usually young, and their experiences are intense and formative.

Whether it is international students coming to study in New Zealand or Kiwis studying abroad, Ms Bilkey believes that there are many benefits associated with international education, beyond diplomacy, international trade, and the obvious economic benefits.

Positive international education experience opens hearts and minds

There are higher-level, public good benefits, she says. “A positive international education experience contributes to the global good, as it opens hearts and minds and encourages tolerance.”

Other benefits for all of us include the exposure to cutting-edge thinking and breakthroughs resulting from research collaboration between New Zealand and international students’ home countries. “The idea that if you get outside the box and have people coming in with a different approach, that can sometimes generate really positive, new and innovative ideas.”

Ms Bilkey is in no doubt that a positive international education experience in New Zealand boosts our connectivity with the rest of the world by building long-term relationships, enhancing business, opening doors to trade opportunities, and helping shape global citizens, all badly needed in a world facing unprecedented challenges.

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