Government missing opportunity to promote links with Asia?

By Grant Jacobs 24/08/2012 8

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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Teaching students to write scientific papers

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8 Responses to “Government missing opportunity to promote links with Asia?”

  • I agree with your comments Grant. The benefits to NZ in export education and in highlighting our innovative science based businesses is a very important and now a missed opportunity. I would also comment that it isn’t just Asian countries like Singapore, Korea, Japan, China and India where the Olympiads are “a much bigger deal” then in New Zealand. This is also the case in countries such as Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands. Countries highlighted for their performance in science and tecnology in The OECD SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND INDUSTRY SCOREBOARD 2011 This despite the current global economic situation.

    In late 2011 MSI began assessing “measures for the key drivers of value in the science and innovation ecosystem”. It would seem clear from international performance comparisons that fostering excellence in science education is key. Surely we should stop paying lip serivce to the idea and ensure we value our young scientists and support them to chose science as a career. We need to actively create the links between secondary and tertiary education and research and development and business sectors.

  • Hi Angela,

    Thanks for expanding the list of countries outside of Asia!

    Of overseas nations I am probably most familiar with Asia, having travelled there occasionally. (I’m one of those people that over-research where they’re going to travel.)

    One of the reasons I took the angle that I did was that while you and I might see the “fostering excellence in science education” and the “links” aspects clearly, it occurred to me that looking in the short(er) term government has little excuse for overlooking the marketing to Asia aspect. It’s not an immediately obvious opportunity unless you’re aware of how other nations view these events.

    Another thing that bothers me is given how far ahead the hosting rights are booked, it’s going to be a damn long time before we get the opportunity again.

    Am I right in thinking that if this were reversed quickly they’d be a chance to still host the event?

  • Yes if we found a “white knight” who could underwrite we might be able to resurrect the bid. The IBO steering committee has yet to locate another host country though they are engaged in various discussions.

  • About the costs: if you the government were to view it in terms of costs to the country, rather than an internal (within NZ) cost hasn’t it already been covered.

    ~$600,000 from overseas (less NZ students’ subscriptions, I guess)

    ~$700,000 needed.

    Matching these leaves something over $100,000 – less than the institution has offered to put up already – ?

  • We also did a survey in Singapore of the countries intending to come to NZ in 2014. We asked them how many people would be in the team (countries translating often bring additional team leaders) and how many family members would be accompanying them. we also asked about their intended length of stay before and after the IBO itself. The survey showed that associated with the hosting of the IBO in 2014 would be an additional 1723 tourist days. Attendees also typically spend in local shops, bars and restaurants over and above the set meals and events provided by the host country. Using figures of average tourist spend per day from Tourism NZ the estimated tourist revenue generated from hosting this event in NZ is around $1.5 million dollars, a direct benefit to the NZ economy, especially the Waikato economy. There are lots of benefits of hosting but it seems that the government is fixated on this being an education event that benefits only “clever kids” and are unable to recognise the wider community benefits, not for education nor even for business or tourism.

  • Looking at that, I’m confused why this has not been backed. You’d think looked at purely financially it’d be basically a short/medium-term loan with decent returns. It looks as if NZ is missing opportunities internally, never mind international connections.

    Perhaps the minister was looking at this brief was so focused on their narrow interests (i.e. their specific brief) that they wouldn’t let the wider benefits enter the picture – ? The reason I raise this is not to insult, but because on the face of it, it seems puzzling as to why it got rejected.

    Getting back to the overseas marketing aspect I can’t help thinking there is a need to look to original ways to approach some of these markets through, as the business cliché goes, ‘hearts and minds’ – esp. in Asia where their approaches are not the usual Western approaches.

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