Alison recently had a guest post by Dr Angela Sharples who wrote about the government choosing not to support New Zealand’s hosting of the 2014 International Biology Olympiad. As a the result the organisers have been obliged to retract their offer of support. Readers who look at the list of hosts will note that hosting rights have been accepted right up to 2018, with a preliminary acceptance in place for 2020.

The New Zealand government’s call to not support this event strikes me as short-sighted and not just through not supporting local encouragement of science students.

The government makes a great of noise about promoting business and cultural links with Asia. Perhaps they are not seeing how good an opportunity to encourage these links this event may be?

Key to my thoughts on this is that Science Olympiads are apparently a much bigger deal in Asia than they are here or other non-Asian nations.

With that in mind this event seems to present a large opportunity to promote New Zealand in Asia, including our science, foreign student courses as well as international links in general at modest cost.

Let me explain.

Angela Saini’s opens the first chapter of her book Geek Nation with a look at classes training to be a part of science Olympiads, pointing out how poorly India fares at sport and big a deal these academic competitions are.

She visits Professor Vijay Singh’s classes; Saini relates that “Around one hundred thousand school students turn up to examination centres every year with the hope of qualifying for one of his teams,”

Saini writes (pages 23-24):

These days Olympiads get as much coverage in India’s national press as the Olympics – perhaps even more. As far as Singh is concerned, this is because Indians view a gold medal in science more important than a gold medal in cycling or sailing. ‘There is this mindset among Indians that knowledge is good and science is even better. It’s a cultural thing. And sport, they think of sport as a recreational activity, not to be taken seriously’ he says.

A few paragraphs later Asian (Indian) academic interest are put in perspective: “Last year 472,000 teenagers sat the national engineering college entrance exams, and only 10,000 of them won a place” — about 2% of them. Entry to academia is tough in Asia.

The thing I want to drum home is that these competitions are a much bigger deal in Asia than they are in New Zealand. A lot bigger. They attract eyes and ears of their national media.

Is there an opportunity to use this as a media opportunity to sell New Zealand’s science and technology industry, our foreign student teaching market and our tourism?

Is the government overlooking this?

The cost is minimal it seems. $100,000 to the nation ($700,00 less the $600,000 input from overseas*). Get the interest parties—tourism, science providers, industry, etc.—to pay for their presence so that no further costs are needed there (or, ideally, subsidise their presence). NZBio and many other organisation look to Asia for opportunities. It’d have thought they’d have an interest in reaching the Asian market through something they value.


* Figures taken from comment by Alison Campbell following Dr. Sharples’ guest post. I’d prefer to view this as dollar from the government for dollar brought in from overseas, with the host institution and sponsors bringing up the shortfall (~$100,000) if it were worked that way.

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