International education is one of New Zealand’s largest export industries after dairy and meat, worth around $4.4bn to the economy and supporting 33,000 New Zealand jobs. It’s also a sector enjoying strong growth, with year to date enrolment figures at 31 August 2017 showing that 106,021 international students had enrolled to study.

New Zealand Private Training Establishments (PTEs) are one group of New Zealand education providers creating flexible course options for thousands of students each year, but recent enforcement of strict guidelines by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority have made a clear impact on the way that these providers operate.

This shift has benefited the education industry overall, by moving it towards the provision of quality rather than quantity when it comes to courses, but has forced many PTE providers to look at how they can innovate and automate through the wider adoption of technology.

Automating recruitment processes

Smaller colleges and training establishments can struggle with the burden of international recruitment and administration, often having smaller teams. This means keeping track of tasks and contacts, and processing global payments such as agent commissions or student refunds gets complicated when doing so across different currency types. Errors can happen and they’re hard to fix.

By moving from paper based systems to digital platforms, providers can automate many of their processes, reducing errors and saving valuable time on administrative tasks.

Streamlined online experience

It’s critical for PTEs to have a high quality website which enables a streamlined, straight forward online application process for international students and agents. Many students struggle with the application process when applying to study overseas. From having to deal with a language barrier, to complicated systems and multiple application processes across providers and government agencies; anything that PTEs can do to make the process easier will afford these providers a more competitive advantage.

Artificial intelligence offered by online platforms can also play a role in this domain, by analysing and answering routine queries, and supporting multilingual communication. Most PTEs won’t have the ability to cover every language themselves, so intelligent bots that can translate on the fly can make for an important bridge.

Centralised payment hubs

Making cross-border payments can be a tricky enough issue for companies, let alone individuals. From problems getting funds into New Zealand, to the cost of transferring them out of the country mean that international payments are expensive, opaque and slow, with money often getting lost along the way.

Many families may have saved for years and pooled funds to enable a student to study overseas. It’s important for them to get as much for their money as possible without it being swallowed up in bank fees or poor exchange rates. When they arrive, most international students don’t have New Zealand bank accounts which are vital for day-to-day money needs. Managing money can be a great stress, on top of being in unfamiliar surroundings, far from family and their usual support networks.

PTEs who move to a centralised, online system for international payments are more able to provide international students with a better overseas study experience, saving them time and money. Having everything in one place makes it much easier and simpler for transactions, and gives providers a clear picture of their unique student set and payment types.

The New Zealand government is strongly supporting its international education market as a key driver of the economy, with the International Education Strategy 2018-2030 aiming to “create an environment where international education can thrive and provide economic, social and cultural benefits for all New Zealand”. PTEs are an integral part of this sector. While they may face certain challenges compared to larger universities, due to operating on much smaller margins and short timeframes, the organisations who are excelling are those who think outside the box. Embracing technology, and making life easier for international students and agents to communicate and transact online will deliver exciting benefits as the sector continues its rapid expansion.

Guy St Clair is New Zealand General Manager at Cohort Go where he is responsible for driving and supporting the company’s growth across New Zealand’s international education market.

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