ISANA NZ PD Day in Hamilton, 16 June 2017

My reflection on the ISANA NZ Professional Development Day held in Hamilton on 16 June 2017: http://www.isananz.org.nz. (Original article archived here.)

ISANA NZ PD Day in Hamilton, 16 June 2017
Sherrie Lee, Student Member, ISANA NZ

The ISANA NZ PD Day in Hamilton was held on 16 June 2017 and facilitated by Terry McGrath and Sylvia Hooker. The ISANA NZ PD days across New Zealand were generously sponsored by Allianz/Marsh and Uni-Care.

Terry opened the session with updates to ISANA activities, most notably, the partnership with Education New Zealand(ENZ) to present eight workshops on the topic of pastoral care of international students at the upcoming New Zealand International Education Conference (NZIEC) in August. Another important update was the launch of The International Student Wellbeing Strategy by the Ministry of Education, and the funding available for education providers to implement ideas to strengthen international student wellbeing.

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​Terry also highlighted that ISANA NZ was looking at providing more professional development workshops and invited greater involvement from the ISANA NZ membership. With rapid developments in the international education scene, ISANA NZ is also looking towards increasing its membership and increasing funding for its operations.

Terry also introduced NZISA – New Zealand International Students’ Association – a student organisation in its early stages of formation. As a student representative of NZISA, I spoke briefly about how NZISA came about. Following discussions about the needs of international students and their student voice at the ISANA 2016 conference in Wellington, a group of international student leaders came together to discuss forming an international student organisation. Currently, the proposed constitution is in its draft stage and the students are working towards a formal establishment of the association. (Postscript: more info about NZISA as reported by PIE news.)


Overview Update: International Education in New Zealand
Terry provided an overview of the international education landscape in New Zealand. International education is valuable for longer term migration with declining numbers in the New Zealand work force, as well as for international relations. He highlighted recent statistics of international student enrolments and the key stakeholders involved in international education (ISANA NZ, SIEBA, ANZSSA).

Terry then moved on to focus on the importance of pastoral care for international students. Supporting students’ living and social needs is valuable because it contributes to their overall experience of studying in New Zealand. He highlighted that the goodwill of international students is influential and important for New Zealand. He cited the example of Kiwi expatriates working overseas who have benefitted from such goodwill.

Terry also pointed out the implications of recent developments. Firstly, with the industry having a substantial economic value of more than $4 billion, one needs to ask where the money goes to. How is the government using the money to benefit international students? Secondly, the recent change to the Code of Practice of Pastoral Care for International Students means that the Code is now outcomes-based, which provides greater flexibility for education providers to implement the Code. With a pragmatic approach, how then are outcomes measured?

Workshop 1: Ensuring Well-being in Living Contexts
Terry and Sylvia presented an overview of accommodation issues faced by international students. They discussed the following dominant patterns that influence living choices:

i) social class
ii) communication of pre-arrival information
iii) thinking processes such as, prior expectations
iv) coping mechanisms, especially when living in isolation
v) economics
vi) leadership, e.g. being influenced by other international students
vii) lifestyle factors

One interesting example given, was how an international student would willingly spend a few thousand dollars on a car (because it was relatively cheap compared to buying a car back home), but was unwilling to fork out a couple of hundred dollars for a bed (because it seemed to be exorbitant).

There were two breakout groups (under 18s, over 18s) to discuss accommodation issues. I joined the group focusing on over 18s. It was interesting to find out the preferences of different demographics of students. For example, Chinese students preferred homestay arrangements at least in the initial period, Indian students tended to opt for rental accommodation with fellow nationals, while European students, particularly those who were on short-term courses, looked to Airbnb for living arrangements.

I also shared with the group my personal experience of looking for accommodation for my family and pointed out the difficulty in getting up to date and specific information about property rentals prior to coming to New Zealand. In my interactions with other postgraduate students, I found that personal networks provided valuable information related to living arrangements.

NZQA Update
A representative from NZQA (Harsha Chhima) presented on the updates to the Code of Practice for Pastoral Care for International Students. Harsha highlighted the available resources related to the Code of Practice, such as, resources in different languages for international students. She also highlighted that the new focus on outcomes was based on the principles of ‘high trust and high accountability’. Signatories are required to submit a self-review to review their pastoral care practices and procedures to see if they meet the outcomes of the Code of Practice.

I asked the question of whether there are checks and balances since signatories may be biased in providing evidence of their own conduct. Harsha responded that the department scrutinises the documents submitted by signatories and will act promptly if there are any discrepancies or there is insufficient evidence.

Workshop 2: Pastoral Care in a Cross-cultural Context
Sylvia and Terry presented on the multi-faceted and complex topic of pastoral care (which is itself complex) in a cross-cultural context.

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There were several important aspects which could have been workshop topics of their own, and which I highlight below.

i) Pastoral care is demanding and those in such positions need to recognise the need for self-care, e.g. identifying close contacts whom they can talk to, ask for support from, etc.

ii) Responding to religious sensitivities regarding serious issues (e.g. death) require knowledge and appropriate communication. A useful resource was highlighted – A Practical Reference to Religious Diversity.

iii) Intercultural competence can be thought of as different levels: i) having cultural literacy (knowledge of different cultures), ii) cultural intelligence (being able to function in culturally diverse settings), and iii) cross-cultural competency (having the necessary skills, attributes and behaviour to interact meaningfully between different ethnic cultures).

iv) Elements of social cohesion: i) Belonging, ii) Participation, iii) Legitimacy, iv) Inclusion, v) Recognition.

v) International Student Cycle – the most neglected aspect is probably the post academic transition stage and how students can be supported to transition to employment in New Zealand, back to their home countries, etc.

Immigration NZ – Update on policy changes
A representative from Immigration New Zealand (Bridget Harrison) presented on the latest policies and visas related to international students. The details can be found on Immigration NZ’s website pages specifically for education providers. Bridget also shared about the recent Pathways Visas which was potentially attractive to students as well as education providers (in terms of reducing administration), but was however, not clearly understood and therefore there needed to be greater clarification of the requirements. One of the points reiterated was that evidence of having sufficient funds was an important visa requirement, and that international students cannot expect to be guaranteed paid employment as a means to fund their studies.

A significant policy change was the requirements for the Skilled Migrant Category visa – notably the minimum remuneration of $48,859 per annum, and the increase in selection points (140 to 160). This then has an impact for students who consider overseas education in New Zealand as a pathway to migration. A few in the audience considered the minimum remuneration to be unrealistic since New Zealander workers would not typically receive such pay even after several years of working experience. Bridget said that there would be consultation in the near future regarding these recent changes and how they affect international students. Bridget also highlighted that students who were considering post-study migration should ‘be smart’ about their work rights and make full use of such opportunities to get their foot in the door.

I then raised the point about how there seems to be conflicting messages about providing students’ work rights, and then advising them about the challenges of finding paid work. I suggested that this was going to be an ongoing challenge with students having high expectations of finding work (e.g. as promised by agents) and the reality of paid employment for students.

 Workshop 3: Sharpening our Tools
i) Handling workload & avoiding burnout
ii) Building an inclusive student body
iii) Enhancing cultural literacy amongst staff
iv) Marketable features in our support programmes

I participated in discussion groups on ‘Building an inclusive student body’ and ‘Enhancing cultural literacy amongst staff’. In our discussion on building an inclusive body, I was asked what I thought would be an ideal inclusive body. I shared that it was having friendships and networks with locals like domestic students. I personally found this one of the most challenging aspects of relationship building. It was much easier to connect with fellow international students who had an immediate understanding of what you were about. Several in the group noted that internationalising the campus was about creating opportunities for greater interaction between domestic and international students.

The group also talked about how buddy programmes were useful by intentionally pairing a domestic student with a new international student. I suggested that for postgraduate students, a group of buddies, rather than individual persons, might be more effective in helping students and often the families they bring with them in the initial transition period.

In the discussion group on enhancing cultural literacy, all of us recognised the challenges of building such skills among people who may have limited exposure to different cultures or who hold strong views about those outside their own culture. For institutions to equip staff with cultural competency, it is necessary for management and decision-makers to recognise its importance and the integral part it plays in pastoral care.

Personal reflection
Staff working in roles supporting international students face a set of complex challenges such as, institutional culture and agendas, diverse student backgrounds, and ongoing global developments and unexpected events. The PD day was an important time to gather collectively, not only to hear the latest news, but also to share and learn from experiences from other people and organisations. ISANA NZ plays an increasingly important role in facilitating the professional development of individuals, who in turn shape the culture of international education in practice.

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