Curious. I came across this story, then opened up the NZ Herald’s Education section to see what they had, and found this. Both tell pretty much the same story, but with a few differences in emphasis, and the Herald’s Lincoln Tan gives a little more detailed information. A quick summary: A Chinese student by the name of Cathy Luo went to different private training establishments with her Japanese friend to find an English course, only to discover that she would be charged considerably more for the same course than her friend because she held a Chinese passport.

Different emphasis: Whereas CNR’s report waits until the very end to present the Human Rights Commission’s response, Tan puts it right in the second paragraph, sending the reader into the article knowing that the practice of school’s charging different fees to students from different countries studying the same courses has already been deemed probably illegal.

Extra detail: Tan names one of the training establishments, Kingston Institute, which charges students from China, Korea (presumably South) and Vietnam NZ$2250 for a 12-week English course for which students from Japan, Brazil and Saudi Arabia are charged NZ$1500.

Both articles state that Ms Luo was offered a bulk discount rate – the same fee as her Japanese friend – if she recruited at least 2 other Chinese students, but Tan in the Herald adds:

“I really didn’t know trying to find a price for an English language course at a school here can be so complicated,” Miss Luo said in Mandarin [my emphasis]. “I feel it is really unfair that international students are being penalised just because of where we come from, and I don’t think language schools should behave like they are souvenir shop retailers trying to rip off tourists.”

Now, I emphasised the in Mandarin because I find this a curious little detail to add. Does this imply her English skills, or perhaps her confidence in her English skills, are not up to an interview with a journalist in English? She is, after all, looking for an English language course. If that is the correct reading, then can we infer anything about the behaviour of Kingston and the other unnamed institute?

Both articles quote Darren Conway, chairman of English New Zealand. I’ll use the Herald’s quote – why translate when I already have an English version?:

But English New Zealand chairman Darren Conway said it was “reasonable commercial practice” for providers to charge different rates for students from different countries.

“The ability to pay by students and the general market conditions vary from country to country.”

Mr Conway, who is also chief executive of Languages International, said overseas education agents were also paid different commission rates to recruit students for Kiwi schools.

“For example, while our standard agency rate is 20 per cent, we pay 25 per cent to most of our partners in Switzerland because they are so professional, and the costs of operating in Switzerland are much higher than they are in, for example, China,” he said.

Ah, right. But hang on, Tan of the Herald also goes to Andy Leighe, Kingston’s international department head, saying it’s about Kingston’s marketing direction:

One of the reasons we are offering South American and Middle Eastern students a cheaper rate is because we want to get more students from those markets

I think I can see Leighe’s point. They want to build a market in South America and the Middle East – fair enough, New Zealand’s export education centre does seem very heavily reliant on East Asia, China in particular – and one way to do that is offer discounts. Get more people in, let them talk to their friends and families back home, in conjunction with more formal marketing build a reputation in those regions, attract more students….. it seems to make some sense.

I can also see Mr Conway’s point about paying different agents different commissions. You get what you pay for. You pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Other relevant cliches.

But I absolutely can not for the life of me mesh Conway’s “The ability to pay by students and the general market conditions vary from country to country” with the practice of charging students from relatively poor countries like China and Vietnam so much more than students from wealthy and stonkingly rich countries like Japan and Saudi Arabia. Even less so when New Zealand’s human rights laws expressly forbid discrimination on the basis of national origin, among other things. I agree with the Human Rights Commission in that this certainly reeks of illegality – might as well put a sign on the door saying “Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese not quite banned, but not especially welcome”, cos that’s effectively what they’re doing – but even if they could get the approval of a court of law for this practice of charging depending on the passport presented, I can not see the economic logic. You want to strengthen your left foot, so you get a revolver and shoot yourself in the right foot? I’m sure it’d be an effective method, albeit with the minor drawback of later requiring you to shoot yourself in the left foot in order to get your right foot back up to speed. Or find a better exercise regime.

I dunno, for years now I’ve been reading of all kinds of dodginess in the privately owned and operated branch of New Zealand’s export education sector. Schools suddenly closing leaving students in the lurch. Rampant plagiarism and massaged grades. Students being sent off to university with all the right bits of paper but woefully inadequate English skills. Attendance systems that allow students to keep their student visas while they’re really out working in vineyards and orchards instead of studying. Something’s gotta give, cos this news filters back to the sources of our foreign students. Do we really want New Zealand to be to international education what China is to cheap, mass-produced consumer goods?

I guess when I hit publish, I will instantly narrow my chances of being able to find work in New Zealand…. deap breath…. here goes…

…sigh…

5 Responses to “different fees for different passports”

  1. Chris Devonshire-Ellis Says:

    I agree it seems a practice that is difficult to commercially defend, if only because it makes some students feel discriminated against. However, it should also be pointed out that the Chinese Government itself practices the same policy. The application fees for obtaining a visa for China vary considerably depending upon your nationality. And it was until only recently that foreigners had to pay a premium surcharge for internal flight and train tickets in China.
    Quid pro pro?

  2. wangbo Says:

    Thanks Chris, this is a good point. However, in this case in New Zealand it’s private training institutes – for profit businesses whose business is education and training – charging different rates depending on the passport a student holds in apparent contravention of the relevant human rights laws which specifically outlaw discrimination on the basis of national origin. So not quite comparable. If one of the state schools, polytechs or universities turned out to be doing this, then I think there would be a stronger comparison.

  3. Chris Devonshire-Ellis Says:

    I agree. As I said, it’s hard to defend it as a commercial decision.

  4. Ji Village News Says:

    As far as visa application fee, it is almost always reciprocal. For US citizens, you’ve got Uncle Sam to blame for high foreign (including China) visa application fee. The State Department increased its visa application fee significantly a few years back, from around 30 (couldn’t remember the exact amount) dollars to 140, up until April 13th, 2012. Starting April 13th, US charges 160 bucks for nonimmigrant visa application, which is a pretty big burden for a lot of people from developing countries, if you ask me.

  5. wangbo Says:

    I think US$160 is a big ask for most people from most countries.