Exclusive Interview: Ambassador Macpherson, New Zealand Ambassador

By I’mACE Team

Ambassador Macpherson came to visit IDP Education’s office and meet New Zealand ASEAN Awards students before their departure to New Zealand.

The New Zealand ASEAN Scholar Award (NZAS) is a scholarship funded by the New Zealand Aid Programme, the New Zealand Government’s international aid and development programme. It is managed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Students from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam are eligible to apply for their postgraduate study.

The I’m ACE Team had an opportunity to have an exclusive interview with Ambassador Macpherson.

Q: South East Asia will be a new region for you to be stationed in. What are you looking forward to?

A:   Interestingly, my personal interest in regional affairs began when I was a student myself.

When I was at university, I was honoured to receive a Japan Airlines Scholarship.  This gave me the opportunity to study over a summer in Tokyo, together with students from all around the Asia-Pacific. This experience really fuelled my desire to become a diplomat, and to represent New Zealand in the Asia-Pacific.   

While this is my first posting in the region, I have had a strong appreciation of New Zealand’s trade and broader linkages with South East Asia, and the importance of the region to us.  Recently I had the privilege to work as the Foreign Affairs Adviser to two of our Prime Ministers, and I was often closely engaged in regional issues.    

I am excited, and am really looking forward to representing New Zealand as Ambassador to Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.  I am enthusiastic about continuing to build stronger ties between New Zealand and these countries, and also getting to know each of them, their people and their cultures better.   Regional cooperation, including through ASEAN will also be an important focus. 

Q: What challenges and opportunities do you foresee in this region?

A:  South East Asia is one of the most dynamic regions in the world, in terms of both its people and its economic vibrancy.  ASEAN’s role in the world is becoming more and more influential.

So it’s no surprise that the region is an increasingly important one for New Zealand.  For me, there are opportunities to build on the stronger links in a number of areas.  This includes in people-to-people links, education, governance, sustainable development and trade and economic cooperation. 

I am lucky that I have a very highly motivated and professional team that are working hard to identify specific opportunities for closer collaboration in a range of areas.  

New Zealand also sees increased regional integration, through initiatives like the RCEP, as important, and positive for our region so we will continue to support efforts to build closer regional cooperation as well.

In terms of challenges, New Zealand has been a strong and consistent international supporter of the strong democratic institutions, and civil and political rights.  There are some challenges presently in the region on this front, and we will continue to engage openly, and frankly, with regional partners on these issues.    

Q: What are you priorities during your term as Ambassador?

A: My priorities are maintaining our strong ties, identifying opportunities to build closer links and ensuring that we have the relationships in place that allow us to engage constructively, but openly, when we need to navigate our way through any challenges.

Education links are really important for us in this regard, as they help us to build ties across different parts of society – whether with the government, or with business, or academia, or civil society.   So I am a strong supporter of building closer education ties.

Trade and economic ties are always an important focus for us, and identifying appropriate opportunities to build closer ties between our businesses will always be a focus for us.

Where we can, we want to work collaboratively to support sustainable economic development, as we also believe that this is important in helping support community development, prosperity and security.   

I think it’s important in this regard to identify areas of particular expertise in New Zealand, and match these with areas, or sectors, where there is a pressing need in our partner countries.

New Zealand is not the wealthiest, or largest, country in the world – but where we have been able to work together in areas that we are good at – for example in de-mining, or helping improve farmer livelihoods – we have been able to contribute meaningfully to peoples’ lives.

Q: IDP supports students to study abroad in New Zealand, as it is 1 of our 5 destinations. What do you feel New Zealand has to offer in terms of education opportunities for Cambodians?

A: There are four main things I think a New Zealand education offers to Cambodians. First, New Zealand has a strong reputation for being creative and innovative, and this is reflected in our education system.  

Second, we have a strong international reputation as a comprehensive, high-quality education provider.  Last year, for example, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Educating for the Future Index ranked New Zealand as the best education system overall, earning full marks for our curriculum framework for future skills; collaboration between education providers and industry; and cultural diversity and tolerance - among a number of other measures.

Thirdly, we are a diverse, welcoming and safe country. So, I think if you’re looking for a friendly country where you can pursue a world class education, New Zealand should be at the top of the list of countries that you should consider!

Finally, international students receive a New Zealand education that prepares them for a successful global career. Our institutions have global industry connections and offer real-life and practical challenges as part of the curriculum.

Qualifications from our tertiary institutes are recognised around the world, and our study programmes are designed to produce smart, capable, well-rounded people with the skills and knowledge to make a positive contribution to society.

Q: This morning you had the chance to meet with the pre-departure students from the New Zealand ASEAN Awards. What advice do you have for them?

A:  Meeting these enthusiastic, impressive students was inspiring.   I felt energised meeting a group of motivated young professionals who are looking to enhance their education for the benefit of their communities and country. 

I have no doubt they will have a positive educational experience in New Zealand.  I also hope that they can become Ambassadors for Cambodia - New Zealand ties in a range of areas.

My advice to them was to study hard, but to also take the opportunity to see our beautiful country, and experience our culture.   Education, I think is not only gained in the classroom, but through life-experiences. 

Finally, I encouraged them to try and make friends in New Zealand, so they can maintain links with New Zealanders after they return home.

Ambassador Macpherson speaking to the group

Q: What advice do you have for students aspiring to study in New Zealand either through a scholarship or self-funded?

A:  I would encourage them to do so, because if you are able to go and study in New Zealand - whether it’s through the New Zealand ASEAN Awards or other scholarship or training programs, or self-funded  - you will receive a high-quality education, have a memorable personal experience, and make many new friends.

Therefore I will continue to encourage all students that I meet in Cambodia who want to go and study in New Zealand, to follow this dream, work hard and make it a reality!

ACE would like to thank Ambassador Macpherson for his time, insights and words of advice.

The interview has been edited for length.

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