Whanganui attracts international student interest

Whanganui’s international education delegation has completed the Japanese portion of its assignment, meeting more than 40 agents and visiting six schools over a five-day period.

The group also held a meeting with the Tokyo Board of Education and visited Whanganui’s Sister City, Nagaizumi-Cho, where they met with Deputy Mayor Masanori Takada, Nagaizumi-Cho General Manager Masaharu Kawaguchi, Chairman of the International Exchange Association Ikuo Nagashima, and city representatives.

The trip to Japan, South Korea and Vietnam is being made possible with support from economic development agency Whanganui & Partners. Rach Hoskin, the agency’s Strategic Lead for Capability, has led efforts to send the delegation abroad in order to re-establish international student numbers in Whanganui.

International secondary students contribute significantly to Whanganui, each boosting the economy by more than $40k per year. The delegation includes Directors of International Students Natasha McKee (Whanganui High School) and Jane Williams (Whanganui Girls’ College), former International Secondary Schools Director Jude Lydia, and Whanganui & Partners’ Strategic Lead for Marketing, Rebecca Black.

The delegation began its efforts in Japan at a full-day seminar with each school meeting 15-20 agencies, represented by up to three agents each. The group then toured Waseda Jitsugyo High School and Junior High, which is connected to Waseda University. The group continued their Waseda Jitsugyo meeting over dinner, resulting in a new agreement being established with the school.

Over its next two days in Tokyo, the delegation met with schools and international student agents. The group’s engagement with agents has led to agreements for short-term group visits and a number of longer-term study offers for individual students.

After Tokyo, the group moved on to Osaka, stopping at Nagaizumi on the way. In Osaka, the group travelled across the city meeting international education agents and establishing new relationships with agencies.
Whanganui High School’s Natasha McKee said there was an advantage in carrying out the meetings as a region.

“It has meant our schools can work together to offer more opportunities to these students and agents, and it reassures them that there are all the resources and opportunities necessary to support students’ study in Whanganui. We had a consistent message, and the people we met could see how sincere we are about finding the best match for each student.”

Jane Williams said Whanganui Girls’ College also appreciated the benefit of working together.
“Some of the schools we visited were single-sex while others were co-ed. Being together meant we could establish which of our facilities best suited each agent or school’s needs. Some were interested in our small school or using our hostel while others found a better fit with High School.

“If we weren’t travelling together and supporting each other, some of those opportunities would have been lost. We were able to reassure the people we met that Whanganui was the right place for a variety of students with different interests and that supporting their needs is important to us.”

Williams had the opportunity to reconnect with several students who had recently studied at Girls’ College. In 2019, Whanganui hosted 100.5 full-time equivalent students (the .5 reflects a study period of half a year). In 2022, Whanganui had 7.5 full-time equivalent students.

“Seeing those students again is bittersweet for all of us but it reiterates how much we care for these students and value them and their contribution to our school. The schools get to see us reconnect and recognise how special their time in Whanganui has been.”

McKee said despite being in its early stages, the trip had already recorded success in Japan.

“So far, we have seven students on our ‘probable’ list, that’s an excellent result this early in the piece. This type of concentrated effort for recruitment generally builds slowly towards enrolments over a period of months and years. We expect that to happen too but it’s very reassuring to have such strong interest so soon after engagement.”

While the schools promoted their facilities and opportunities, Whanganui & Partners’ Marketing Lead, Rebecca Black, spoke about Whanganui’s unique character. She said the city’s UNESCO City of Design status played an important part in the discussions.

“Japanese recognise the prestige of the UNESCO designation and how impressive the status is for a city of Whanganui’s size. We were able to talk about Whanganui’s creativity, its design innovation and its industrial strengths. All of these things leave an impression and raise Whanganui’s profile.

“Whanganui’s accessibility and the ease with which students can navigate the city were also important. Showing people how beautiful and special the city is has made a significant impact on the agents and schools we’ve been meeting.”

McKee, who previously lived, studied and taught in Kyoto, said the Kansai region was newer territory for the schools’ recruitment efforts. Kyoto and Osaka are both close together in the Kansai region.

“We have traditionally targeted Tokyo, as have many other schools, cities and countries. Moving into Kansai we found new opportunities in a less saturated international student market.”

At its Tokyo Board of Education meeting, the group talked about the possibility of establishing a regular stream of students through the Education Board. The Board, which recently visited Whanganui on a trip facilitated by Whanganui & Partners, has a particular interest in farming.

Whanganui & Partners has worked alongside the Board to organise a visiting group of students later this month. Black said the Board also spoke about the Japanese Government’s initiatives to address gender inequality, and how education in Whanganui could help girls realise what was possible.

“They were particularly interested in women in farming, and why women choose to pursue careers in agriculture. We know girls in New Zealand have limitless aspirations and we’re keen to encourage their Japanese peers to understand anything is possible for them too.”

Black said the group had also been surprised by other shifts in the international education market impacting Japan.

“The Philippines has now overtaken the United Kingdom in popularity for Japanese English learners, and New Zealand sits below the UK in the ranking.

“We visited a high school in Tokyo where two classes full of students were in online one-to-one English lessons with teachers in the Philippines. We know we have to be more strategic than ever about the way we market international education,” she said.

“It starts by meeting in person and building confidence in who we are and why what we have to offer is special.”

Another way Whanganui could support its international education industry was through being a great host city, she said. Host families are financially supported while they have children staying with them.
“The number of students Whanganui can welcome is limited by the number of host families we have ready to take in students,” she said.

“Families have a lot to gain by hosting international students and they form lasting friendships with the young people who stay with them. It’s a very rewarding and enriching experience to have, welcoming a young person from overseas into your home and family.”

Black said anyone interested in hosting an international student could get in touch with Whanganui High School, Whanganui Girls’ College, or Cullinane College. The delegation is now undertaking its work in South Korea the leaves for Vietnam on October 12.

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