New Zealand Higher Education – Fast Facts

8319d14fdf895c07e6a243c5c23179c5?s=50&d=mm&r=g Olivia Blazevic
Content Marketing Manager

Upon the announcement of New Zealand’s ‘Reform of Vocational Education’, we have comprised an overview of the trends in the tertiary education system, and what we should expect to see happen within the sector.

Check our fast facts below to learn more about each significant component of the current system, and how this new reform is expected to make an impact.

Government Funding Availability

Between 2017 and 2018:

  • Government funding for tertiary education was 1.6% of gross domestic product.
  • Government funding for student allowances increased to $511 million.
  • Government funding for tuition subsidies decreased to $2,180 million, with expenditure for industry training also showing a slight drop at $172 million.
  • Average affordability of tertiary education at universities, polytechnics and wānanga has remained relatively stable between 2015 and 2017. Before this, average affordability had generally been decreasing since 2003.

Vocational Education – Changes

According to the ‘Reform of Vocational Education’, on top of the merger of 16 Institute of Technology and Polytechnics into a single entity, a unified funding system is set to be applied to the vocational space, in order to simplify the current funding program.

Currently, Polytechnics and ITOs work independently of each other – under different funding – often with qualifications that are not transferable or consistent across the country. See here for more about what the new reforms will entail.

Funding for vocational education is currently dependent on who is delivering the qualification, rather than what is being taught. This causes ITOs and education providers to go up against one another.

It is anticipated that this new funding system will include:

  • A consolidated set of funding rates for both on-job and off-job provision
  • Funding for strategically important delivery that comes at higher costs
  • Funding for Industry Skills Bodies
  • Continued industry/employer contributions to the cost of training
  • Continued fees to learners in some cases

Participation Rates

  • In 2017, 11% of the working-age population in New Zealand – aged between 16 and 64 years – participated in tertiary education. Approximately half of those studying were enrolled in a level 1 to 7 Diploma or Certificate, while the other half were studying a Bachelors or higher qualification.
  • While the rate for Bachelors or higher qualifications remained stable from 2016 to 2017, the rate for level 1 to 7 Diplomas and Certificates saw a slight drop.
  • Apprenticeship numbers are up, while trainee numbers are down.

In 2017, the first-year retention rates for other qualification levels were:

  • Approximately 80% for level 3 and 4 Certificates and Honours qualifications
  • 76% for level 5 to 7 Diplomas and Certificates
  • 75% for level 1 and 2 Certificates
  • 71% Graduate Diplomas and Certificates

Overall, 80 percent of students who started study in 2016 were retained in tertiary study in 2017. Women have slightly higher first-year retention rates than men for Certificate and Diploma study (levels 1 to 7), while for degrees and postgraduate qualifications the rates for women and men are similar.

  • Women's Participation

    The data finds women who are in the working-age population participate in tertiary education at a higher rate when compared to men. In 2017, 13% of women were involved in tertiary study, versus 9% of men. These rates have seen a slight drop compared to 10 years earlier – in 2007, 17% of women and 15% of men were in tertiary education. Looking at higher qualifications, the participation rate of working-age women for these levels came up at just over 7% in 2017.

  • Apprenticeships

    In November 2018, it was reported that there has been an upwards trend in apprenticeship participation numbers since 2012. The number of apprenticeships undertaken in 2017 totalled to 46,100 in 2017 – 40,400 were men and 5,670 were women. Almost 80% of industry training was a combination of qualification levels 3 and 4 – a 14% increase compared to five years earlier. In 2017, approximately 40% of all industry training at level 3 and 4 involved apprentices.

Enrolments and Completions

  • In 2017, 117,000 domestic students completed a qualification.
  • There has been an overall uplift in full-time completion rates across qualification levels 1 to 7. For levels 5 to 7 Diplomas and Certificates, the rate increased to 67% from 53% in 2006. 77% of students who began a level 1 to 3 Certificate in 2014 completed their qualification by 2017. Level 4 Certificate completion rates were 74%.

From 2010 to 2016, over


completed a qualification year on year

These high completion figures compared to previous years can be attributed to two factors:

  • The transfer of a ‘youth bulge’ (a dramatic population increase where a large portion of the population is comprised of children and young adults) into tertiary education from 2006 to 2009.
  • A greater importance placed on qualification completions from 2012.

The decrease in the number of qualifications completed from 2016 to 2017 is attributed to fewer level 2 Certificates, Bachelors degrees and graduate Diplomas and Certificates completed. Despite this, completion rate for level 5 to 7 Diplomas and Certificates saw an upwards trend in 2017 – there was a 70% uplift in the latest four-year rate (2010 – 2014), versus the latest six-year rate of 67% (2009 – 2014).

Overall, qualification completion rates for level 1 to 4 Certificates have been on the increase since 2007, but have since steadied. For full-time students, the latest four-year rates for level 1 to 3 Certificates were close to 80%, in comparison to over 70% for level 4 Certificates.


This new, unified system is expected to create a more sustainable approach compared to the current system in place – to build on the success of a work-based system, as well as from a funding perspective.

This outlook on vocational funding arrangements is also set to help industry, employers and providers collaborate better, which will in turn provide more opportunities for work-based learning and create a foundation for a higher performing vocational education system.

Combined with the ‘Fees-Free’ initiative that launched January 1 2018, that has already “stabilised a decline of overall student and trainee enrolment numbers over the past four years, the result of a continued strong economy and more people choosing work over study”, according to Chris Hipkins of the New Zealand Parliament, the vocational education sector in New Zealand is projecting a strong turnaround.

Using the data trend from previous years as a guide, higher education and higher-level courses are projected to maintain steady growth when it comes to overall participation rates.

Reforms are also set to dismantle New Zealand’s industry-led training and apprenticeship system, as industries will now have a say on whether they would prefer if their training organisation was taken over by a single government-own institute.

This new system will provide access to more tutor support and pastoral care, encouraging more tailors support to all kinds of apprentices and trainees.

8319d14fdf895c07e6a243c5c23179c5?s=100&d=mm&r=g Olivia Blazevic
Content Marketing Manager

Olivia is a dedicated and creative content marketing professional with expertise in digital content, strategy development and data analysis — all within the education marketing scope. She is also a devoted over-user of em dashes — seriously, someone needs to stop her.

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