24 November 2021 at 12:55 pm

International education during the pandemic – what we’ve learned

After more than a year of remote learning, academics from New Zealand have shared their insights on the COVID-19 pandemic and the way forward at a key education forum for the Americas.

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Education New Zealand held a webinar in its Kōrerorero: Conversations that Matter series at the Conference of the Americas on International Education – drawing academics and decision-makers from around the world.

Leading academics from Victoria University of Wellington, Auckland University of Technology, Massey University and Lincoln University explained the New Zealand approach to the challenges of distance learning and the innovations they discovered during the toughest moments.

Associate Professor Arun Elias, Associate Dean of International and Accreditation at Victoria University’s Wellington School of Business and Government, said while student-to-student interactions had fallen, digital platforms were opening up new ways of doing things.

“We had two PhD examinations which were completely online. We had one PhD student from Victoria being examined in an oral examination by an examiner in Colombia. Also, I was an examiner for a PhD student in the University of Sao Paulo, so that was something which we usually don't do which was a very unique experience.”

Dr Elias quoted a famous Māori proverb: “What is the most important thing in the world? It’s the people, it's the people, it's the people.”

Professor Guy Littlefair, Pro Vice-Chancellor International and Dean of Faculty at Auckland University of Technology, said lockdowns demanded change on many fronts.

“We've all had to learn how to be much more innovative around how we deliver programmes, but also how we conduct research and particularly how we engage with our partners right across the world.

“So, coming out of the pandemic I actually think we have more things in common than we've ever done before.”

Associate Professor Kerry Taylor, Head of School of Humanities, Media and Creative Communication at Massey University, said the difficulties had the potential to deepen relationships.

“There are a lot of lessons that we can share, but also learn from our partners, in terms of the importance of agreements and things like that.

“But I think one of the important things we need to make sure (of) is that we don't treat the relationship simply as an economic one. It's got to be about cultural understanding; it's got to be about shared values and sharing values and aspirations to bring people into the conversation.”

Professor Hugh Bigsby, Dean of the Faculty of Agribusiness and Commerce at Lincoln University, said the pandemic was a chance to find new ways to make human connections.

“One of the wonderful things about international connections and the importance of it is that you learn other institutions’ cultures.

People use the same fundamental skills and ideas a little bit differently and by mixing with other people’s understanding – why they're doing what they're doing – it actually helps inform things that you do back home.”

Watch the full webinar – Kōrerorero: Internationalisation for growing partnerships, a New Zealand perspective.

Education New Zealand was a platinum sponsor at the Conference of the Americas on International Education (CAEI). This continental forum brings together the main actors and decision-makers on the internationalisation of higher education in the Americas to chart the future of academic cooperation in the region.

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