Brijesh Sethi

It is now more than 10 years since New Zealand School of Education (NZSE) opened its doors with a single campus in New Lynn, Auckland. Managing director Brijesh Sethi established the private training establishment (PTE) in 2004, primarily as an information and communications technology (ICT) school. Sethi, who has a background in ICT, saw a need for more ICT training in New Zealand and this prompted him to get the institution up and running.

Today there are five schools within NZSE – ICT, business, design, digital media and early childhood education – run across three campuses: New Lynn, Queen Street and Manakau. More than 700 students are currently enrolled – approximately 60 per cent international and 40 per cent domestic. A total of 23 certificates and 19 diplomas are on offer. They employ over 70 staff representing around 16 cultures, with more than 20 languages spoken.

Difficult beginnings

While things are looking good now, NZSE didn’t have a particularly easy start. In the early days of operation there was no government funding available and without funding, no access to student allowances. They could only enrol domestic students for the first two years. Things looked grim for the newly formed institution.

So in 2006, having prepared staff for the worst, Sethi decided to lobby Government on the funding issue, forming a lobby group to help promote their case. The group was successful in making their point, and from 2007 basic funding was approved. This allowed the introduction of international students to NZSE.

Although it was a difficult time, Sethi believes he essentially turned a threat into an opportunity. The institution began to flourish.

In 2010 they acquired Canterbury College of Natural Medicine, then Raffles Design and Commerce in 2013. All were brought under the NZSE umbrella to yield schools of ICT, business, design, digital media and most recently, early childhood education. All the schools, apart from early childhood education, now offer qualifications at Levels 3 to 7.

Second chance learners

NZSE has a strong focus on second chance learners – in fact, it sees this as its “key differentiator”. The institution is not necessarily trying to attract the best and brightest, but is focused on its goal of offering an opportunity to those who might otherwise struggle to come by higher education. Sethi believes there is a real need for this in the community.

“We are definitely in that market,” he says. “We have always been passionate about taking in second chance learners or those who might have fallen through the cracks in the school education system. We take great pride in transforming the lives of these students and will continue to keep doing so.”

He shares the success story of a former student who used to be a cleaner but completed an IT qualification at NZSE and has since found work in the IT industry.

Vodafone Warriors player Ben Henry is another shining example. Realising that his career as a professional league player would not last forever, he looked to NZSE to pursue a qualification in IT.

“IT is a growing industry and one I firmly believe will continue to grow in importance. I feel that the course will really help me gain a job post-footy. I can’t put all my eggs in one basket, and that is my motivation,” says Henry.

Student pathways

Sethi says there are essentially two pathways for students – vocational and academic.

Sethi is a huge advocate for portability of education, and as such, NZSE has alliances with high schools, tertiary education providers and industry bodies.

There is a strong emphasis on career services and student support. They aim to help students find their way into the course, and help them find their way out into the working world or to further education, by building their CV and interview skills.

They run workshops at some high schools so that students can see what options are open to them.

NZSE has also aligned itself witha number of tertiary providers, including Unitec, Massey University and MIT, to allow students to seamlessly continue their tertiary education if they wish.

All courses are aligned with industry certifications, allowing students’ qualifications to have national and international recognition. Sethi says they maintain close links with the IT professionals’ industry body.

“Being a private institution, we are nimble and can easily convert our training to suit industry needs, which gives us good standing in the industry, compared with some of the more traditional academically driven institutions,” says Sethi.

The PTE curse

However, there are downsides to carrying the private training establishment (PTE) flag. Unfortunately, due to a handful of dubious PTEs that caught the attention of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) and the media, the general public’s view of PTEs has been tainted.

“It is a shame that some institutions have let the side down for everyone,” says Sethi.

Sethi says this is reflected in the way NZQA and the Ministry of Education conduct their visits to NZSE. He says they typically take a negative approach and appear to be on the lookout for faults and weaknesses, rather than taking an open-minded approach.

“The whole attitude to policing is not good,” says Sethi, “They should go down hard on the ones that aren’t complying.”

Sethi thinks the approach to tertiary education in New Zealand is skewed.

“In New Zealand you’re viewed as a business first, and an educational provider second. It should be the other way around.”

Overseas expansion

Sethi and his team are in the throes of expanding NZSE internationally. They opened an office in India last year, and are looking to do the same in China this year. Through these avenues NZSE will leverage relationships they have with educational institutes they already work with. They will look to provide their own courses there – for example, early childhood education is of great interest to India – and in return, bring back expertise to New Zealand, such as India’s strong IT experience.

“It will be a real exchange of knowledge,” says Sethi.

As yet, however, there has been no support from Education New Zealand, but Sethi is optimistic about New Zealand’s export education efforts.

“New Zealand has made enormous strides in its education system and with its export education policy; we are thrilled to be bringing this into India and China. This has immense growth opportunities for us, as well as the education sector.”

Government policy has a big impact on institutions like NZSE.

“We are at the mercy of government policy decisions,” says Sethi,“For example, when they took Level 7 IT off the long-term skills shortage list in 2010, we saw a drop in enrolments.”

Despite such challenges, NZSE appears to take it all in its stride as it continues to expand both domestically and internationally. No doubt it will meet any hurdles head-on as it embraces the next decade.

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