Saturday, June 15, 2024

PM speech at Beijing university addresses education cooperation

Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins, has delivered a speech on the topic ‘Reconnecting and Development: New Patterns of Education Cooperation between New Zealand and China in the Post-Epidemic Era’ at Peking University in Beijing as part of his visit to the region.

The speech follows:

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā hau e whā. Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

Da Jia Hao

Professor HAO, Chair of the Peking University Council, President Gong, distinguished guests, faculty and students of Peking University.

I am delighted to join you today at this critical time of reconnection and re-engagement in the bilateral education relationship between New Zealand and China, following disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I am particularly pleased to return to your prestigious university.

In 2018, as Minister of Education, I had the honour of meeting with my then counterpart Minister Chen Baosheng, while attending a roundtable discussion focusing on China – New Zealand relations here in Beijing. On the same trip I met with then-President Professor Lin Jianhua here at Peking University.

The grounds at Peking University.

I was struck at the time by the beauty of your grounds and the traditional Chinese architecture which underpin the deep culture of this university. Your excellence has been recognised for many years, reinforced by your exceptionally high placing globally on the QS World University rankings.

Now that both of our countries have fully opened our borders, I am delighted to return this time as Prime Minister, alongside a trade delegation of some of New Zealand’s world leading businesses.

The overarching focus of our trade mission to China is reconnection and recovery. Re-establishing connections face to face, while also growing new ones, helps to ensure our economic recovery continues in the right direction. 

International education remains an important priority for our Government – we need to keep sharing and growing the knowledge and opportunities for both our countries and our peoples.

Together we’re preparing students for a changing world and to future-proof our education eco-systems.  I want to canvas these concepts with you today – taking a look at our shared history and how we are researching and working together to prepare for the challenges of the future. 

Welcoming Chinese students back

Let me begin with how pleased we are to be welcoming students from China back to Aotearoa New Zealand. Chinese students contribute greatly to the diversity and vibrancy of our campuses and communities. Chinese students make up over 35% off all international students who come to study in New Zealand – this speaks to the strong educational ties between our two countries.

Student mobility is something our young people are keen to pursue, and the value of this two-way exchange is important to the future of both our countries.

We are delighted to be able to once again support New Zealand education providers to re-engage with Chinese partners at all levels.  This is about reinforcing existing institutional partnerships and building new ones, as well as engaging with students and families, and increasing awareness of New Zealand as an education partner.

Bilateral relations: One of New Zealand’s most significant relationships

The education cooperation between our two countries is anchored within our broader bilateral relationship. New Zealand’s relationship with China is one of our most significant.

Last year our countries marked 50 years of diplomatic relations. In 1972, our Permanent Representatives at the United Nations signed the Joint Communiqué which established diplomatic relations between China and New Zealand.

China’s representative at the time was former Foreign Minister and Vice Premier Huang Hua, who was an alumnus of Yanjing University, which was later became part of Peking University. It was while studying there in the 1930s he became friends with New Zealander James Bertram, who was studying mandarin at the university. Bertram went on to become a well-known writer and educationalist who contributed to growing New Zealand’s understanding of China.

Since then, many young Kiwis have chosen to come to China and to places like Peking University.

But the connection between our peoples extend further back, even before the iconic Rewi Alley’s arrival in China in 1927, to the mid-nineteenth century. Appo Hocton, commonly understood to be the first Chinese immigrant to New Zealand, first arrived in 1842. After leaving Guangdong aged nine years old, he sailed across the vast oceans on English ships for years, before settling in Nelson in the South Island of New Zealand. Appo later became a respected businessman and is estimated to have about 1600 living descendants in New Zealand. Today, Chinese New Zealanders make up almost 5 percent of our population. This includes both recent immigrants and those who can trace their New Zealand family history back several generations.

Just as our people connections have grown, our bilateral relationship has also developed and evolved. During the time since establishing diplomatic relations, our bilateral trade has gone from $38 million to over $40 billion. Trade between our two countries was further strengthened with the entry into force last year of our bilateral FTA upgrade and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

While trade has made us more prosperous, there are other key areas in which we cooperate. Among these is the global challenge of climate change and sustainability. Tackling climate change is essential for a stable future and economic security of all countries. Increasing severe weather is already affecting food production and livelihoods. This is why climate change is a priority for dialogues between New Zealand and China. No country can solve such an issue alone.

Our countries also work together on environmental cooperation. A lesser-known example is migratory birds.  We have joint efforts to protect birds such as godwits and red knots, which migrate from New Zealand to the Arctic North each year, stopping along the coast of North China on the way. This is highly symbolic in showcasing our strong links despite vast physical distances. Like the godwits and red knots, it is our people travelling across these distances who continue to tie our countries together, whether they are entrepreneurs, tourists or students.

Education a key pillar

Education is one of the key pillars of our bilateral relationship and has been the foundation for strong and enduring links.

Underpinning this are the values we adhere to in New Zealand.

The first is our value of “Tiaki”, a Te Reo Māori term that describes our care for people, place and planet for our collective future. Another value is “Manaaki”, that speaks to building relationships based on respect, care and reciprocity. And finally, our third key value is “Pono”, which encourages actions undertaken with integrity, honesty and transparency.

Our education relationship is also built on reciprocity and partnerships which have grown over the years, encompassing wide-ranging collaboration across economic, cultural, people-to-people, and other connections. We have engaged in productive policy dialogues, created extensive opportunities for knowledge sharing, and laid paths for student mobility. The benefits of our cooperation span every level of education, from early childhood through to higher education and vocational training.

Even when our borders were closed, research and academic collaboration with Chinese partners remained strong through virtual engagement.

COVID changed the global landscape for education

While the pandemic had a huge impact on international education across the globe, it has also transformed the way in which we now look at its future.

We all learnt alternative ways of doing things, from those months and years when traditional face-to-face learning environments were replaced by virtual forums and online classrooms.

The New Zealand Government and our education providers worked hard to support international students caught in the pandemic.  We quickly helped those who opted to return home, and continued to care for students who decided to stay in New Zealand in the same way we supported our own communities.

Today the world is reconnecting. Many of us are travelling again. Airlines are rebuilding their commercial fleets and extending their routes, with airline connectivity between New Zealand and China now at 76 percent of pre-COVID levels. After so many years of speaking and meeting virtually, we are once again meeting face-to-face.

As students resume their studies offshore in this new post-COVID environment, we must not forget the lessons we learned during the pandemic.

We need to ensure that education becomes more resilient and sustainable. In New Zealand we recognised the need to plan for this post-COVID environment. As part of this drive, we refreshed our country’s International Education Strategy last year.

The first phase of our refreshed strategy is about recovery. It responds to the immediate needs of education providers and focuses on helping to bring students back into our schools and campuses.

The second phase of the strategy positions international education to step into a different future, one that is focused on high quality, high-value international education that has long-term benefits for New Zealand and our international partners.

One of the lessons of the pandemic is that New Zealand’s post-COVID future will include greater involvement in applied learning.  It will also see closer liaison with New Zealand’s innovative EdTech sector. And, importantly, it will be more inclusive of newer demographics of life-long, professional learners who seek to continue their education and career development by accessing specialist qualifications online.

Technology is an integral part of the way new generations live, learn, work, and play.  It means students are more globally connected than ever before. Online learning is still in its relative infancy, with much work to be done to build credibility, a viable range of learning options, global demand and consistency of standards.

The legacy of COVID is that the world we live in is profoundly changed. It continues to change, and new international realities continue to evolve. To remain relevant and globally connected we will all need new kinds of courage and creativity.

Education in a changing world

As part of marking the 50th anniversary of our diplomatic relationship last year, our countries renewed the Arrangement on Cooperation in Education and Training. We also held a special 10th Joint Working Group on Education and Training where I had the pleasure to open the Joint Working Group alongside Minister Huai. 

Education is at the nexus of solving current and future global challenges. A skilled and educated workforce will be critical to overcoming the challenges we face in addressing climate change, future pandemics, and the management of the global economy.

This is something we have recognised for some time. Since 2005, the New Zealand-China Tripartite Partnership Programme has supported valuable research relationships between our top institutions. It is a notable example of our two countries investing in solving future challenges together in fields as diverse as cancer research, digital governance of education, and the preservation of indigenous languages.

Understanding the importance of this partnership, we continued to fund this programme through the pandemic. Last month we awarded three new projects from the University of Auckland and Massey University and their Chinese partner universities. The research projects include topics on identification of bio markers in red deer, enhancing teaching of physical education, and digitalisation of school governance.

Preparing our students for a changing world is a key tenet of our international education strategy, and a shared ambition of our two countries. This was the purpose behind the collaboration that led to the establishment of the New Zealand Centre at Peking University in 2007.

Last year I witnessed the virtual renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding between Peking University and all eight of New Zealand’s universities.

I’m also delighted that my visit coincides with the arrival of the inaugural Rewi Alley Professorship recipient at Peking University – Professor Laurence Simmons from the University of Auckland. Dedicating this professorship to Rewi Alley holds special significance. He dedicated 60 years of his life to China and made great contributions to both education and training in China and the friendship between our countries.

To support student mobility and learning between New Zealand and Chinese tertiary institutions, earlier today Premier Li and I witnessed the renewal of the Arrangement on Mutual Recognition of Academic Qualifications in Higher Education between the Ministries of Education of our two countries.

There are many more strands to our cooperation which contribute to internationalisation and the futureproofing of our education eco-systems.

China recently approved two new joint institutes and three new joint programmes between New Zealand tertiary providers and their Chinese partners. These include Victoria University of Wellington’s Joint Institute with Zhengzhou University to deliver undergraduate degrees majoring in architecture, landscape architecture and industrial design and Te Pūkenga partnered with Shengyang Jianzhu  University to deliver degree level qualifications in information and communications technology, and construction.

We now have over 50 joint institutes and programmes between our education institutions, spanning economics, health care, visual arts, and many more. These partnerships are critical channels, which offer students greater choice of study and opportunities for our higher education providers to learn from one another.

The dialogues on policy and the exchange of ideas between our officials and educators have also gone from strength to strength. In the past year we have held high-level forums on higher education, vocational education, and early childhood education.

These types of engagements promote understanding and knowledge sharing to benefit future generations and the resilience of both our education systems. 

What is next for education

In February, I was honoured to address the World Digital Education Conference, hosted by China’s Ministry of Education and the Chinese National Commission for UNESCO. I shared the New Zealand government’s plans on digital transformation in our education system to meet the needs of 21st century learners, communities, and industry.

New Zealand has invested over NZD$1.2 billion in digital connectivity and capability for our education system over many years. New Zealand’s overarching digital strategy articulates a vision that our people, communities, economy, and environment are flourishing and prosperous in the digital era, underpinned by three key concepts of trust, inclusion, and growth.

Technology has the power to transform learning and teaching in the 21st Century. We saw a glimpse of this during the pandemic. Since then, recent developments in artificial intelligence such as Chat GPT has set in motion a new wave of technologies that will shape education globally. What could this look like over the next decade?

Artificial intelligence can analyse student data and provide personalised learning experiences tailored to individual learning styles and needs – including those with disabilities to ensure no student is left behind. AI-powered virtual tutor systems are also expected to offer students personalised support, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Global collaboration among students and educators from different countries will be made easier by artificial intelligence. Virtual classrooms can connect learners worldwide and break down language barriers. New Zealand-based ed-tech companies are supporting school students in New Zealand to develop coding skills and language learning while connecting with students around the world for cross-cultural exchanges.

AI could revolutionise the assessment process by providing automated grading – reducing the burden on educators and enabling faster feedback to students.

Among all these new shiny technologies, it is important to remember that “digital” is not simply about computer hardware and software, the infrastructure that supports it, and the data it contains. It is also about adapting teaching methodologies, and rules and policies, to ensure ethical and responsible use of these technologies.

In New Zealand, we are not just focusing on the technologies themselves, but also how they are designed and implemented and who gets a say. The way this technology is created and used will have far-reaching social, financial, environmental, and cultural impacts. We want all people to be able to thrive – live, learn, work, and enjoy – in digital environments.

This aligns with our vision that New Zealand’s education system equips children and young people with the skills and knowledge to participate, create and thrive on whatever pathway they choose to take.

Just last week New Zealand launched a significant ten-year strategy:  Connected Ako: Digital and Data for Learning. This will guide our work to create a future where learners and educators can thrive in the digital world and transform learning, teaching, assessment and research. As part of this strategy, we are weaving Te ao Māori  into digital design, using data to make a difference and promoting digital inclusion for learners, families, and communities. Tech-collaboration is transforming learning and opportunities for young people and tech sector partnerships with industry and communities are a vital part of this. One example is how we have weaved Te ao Māori in the digital world to create a special place for deaf learners at Rūaumoko Marae  by using Minecraft to build a digital marae and to share the stories and histories. 

A connected future for our people

This brings me back to why all of this matters. Education is all about the future. Preparing our children to live and thrive in the world we leave for them. This is where global engagement, cooperation and partnerships play such an important role.

We have a responsibility to prepare them for the world they will face. To improve their understanding of the world, its myriad cultures and people and the future of our planet.

To help them learn the importance of Tiaki – caring for people, place and planet for our collective future.

To encourage Manaaki – and build relationships based on respect, care and reciprocity.

And to follow the spirit of Pono by acting with integrity, honesty and transparency.

This is why we encourage our students to travel and study in Asia through the Prime Minister’s Scholarship programme, under which China is the most popular destination. Just as we have welcomed Chinese students back to New Zealand, I know many young kiwis are excited about returning to a warm welcome in China. 

There is a commonly invoked Māori proverb in New Zealand which I believe is particularly fitting for today’s theme of education and the connection it brings for our countries.

He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.

What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.

Tēnā koutou katoa.

Xie xie.

Thank you.

Latest Articles