Tertiary education in New Zealand

Tertiary education in New Zealand is provided by universities, institutes of technology and polytechnics, private training establishments, industry training organisations, and wānanga (Māori education). It ranges from informal non-assessed community courses in schools through to undergraduate degrees and research-based postgraduate degrees. All post-compulsory education is regulated within the New Zealand Qualifications Framework,[1] a unified system of national qualifications for schools, vocational education and training, and 'higher' education. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) is responsible for quality assuring all courses and tertiary education organisations other than universities. Under the Education Act 1989,[2] The Committee on University Academic Programmes (CUAP) and the Academic Quality Agency (AQA) have delegated authority for quality assurance of university education. The Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) is responsible for administering the funding of tertiary education, primarily through negotiated investment plans with each funded organisation.

University of Auckland clock tower

Until 1961, all university education was organised under the University of New Zealand, with university colleges around the country. Eventually the colleges became degree-awarding universities in their own right.


Tertiary institutions



Typically, a bachelor's degree will take three years, and a further year of study will lead to an Honours degree. Not every degree follows this 3+1 pattern: there are some four-year degrees (which may or may not be awarded with Honours), and some specialist bachelor's degrees which take longer to complete. Typically, Honours may be awarded with first class, upper second class, lower second class or third class, but this can vary from degree to degree. A bachelor's degree may be followed by a master's degree. A candidate who does not hold an Honours degree may be awarded a master's degree with honours: such a degree usually involves two years study, compared to one year for a master's degree for a candidate who does have an Honours degree. A candidate who has either a master's degree or a bachelor's degree with Honours may proceed to a doctoral degree.


Entry to most universities was previously "open" to all who met the minimum requirements in school-leaving examinations (be it NCEA or Bursary). However, most courses at New Zealand universities now have selective admission, where candidates have to fulfill additional requirements through qualifications, with the University of Auckland offering the largest number of selective-entry courses. Mature students usually do not need to meet the academic criteria demanded of students who enter directly from secondary school.


Domestic students will pay fees subsidised by the Government, and the student-paid portion of the fee can be loaned from the Government under the Government's Student Loan Scheme. Weekly stipends can be drawn from the loan for living expenses, or the student can apply for a needs based (on assessment of parental income) "Student Allowance", which does not need to be paid back.

"Bonded Merit Scholarships" are also provided by the Government to cover the student-paid portion of fees. The New Zealand Scholarship is awarded to school leavers by a competitive examination and also provides financial support to school-leavers pursuing a university degree but does not entail any requirement to stay in the country after they finish university. International students pay full (non-subsidised) fees and are not eligible for Government financial assistance.[citation needed]


The University of Otago Registry Building (completed 1879)
Victoria University of Wellington's Hunter Building (completed 1906)

The first university in New Zealand, the University of Otago, was founded in 1869. The next year, in 1870, the University of New Zealand was founded – the overarching university entity which eventually had a number of university colleges under it.[3] The University of New Zealand was initially based in Wellington, but additionally opened Canterbury College in 1873, University of Otago came under its control in 1874, Auckland University College in 1883, and later Victoria University College in 1889.[3]

The University of New Zealand system – where it was the only degree-granting university in New Zealand – lasted until 1961.[3]

Now the colleges are independent universities in their own right, and since 1961 four new universities have been created: Auckland University of Technology, Lincoln University, Massey University and Waikato University.

Universities in New Zealand:

The overarching representative body for universities is Universities New Zealand, made up of the Vice-Chancellors of the respective institutions.

According to the Education Act 1989, universities have the following characteristics:[4]

(i) they are primarily concerned with more advanced learning, the principal aim being to develop intellectual independence:
(ii) their research and teaching are closely interdependent and most of their teaching is done by people who are active in advancing knowledge:
(iii) they meet international standards of research and teaching:
(iv) they are a repository of knowledge and expertise:
(v) they accept a role as critic and conscience of society;...

Education Act 1989, section 162(4)(a)

Colleges of education

The name 'College of Education' is protected by Act of Parliament. (Previously the name 'Teachers' College' was protected.) Only universities and standalone colleges of education may use this title. Thus, privately owned institutions that are not listed in Acts and that provide teacher education such as the Bethlehem Institute (Tauranga) and New Zealand Graduate School of Education (Christchurch) must use alternative names.

Below is a partial list of historical or existing colleges—specifically those listed in Acts of Parliament as public (Crown-owned) teacher education providers:

Most colleges of education in New Zealand in the past 30 years have gradually consolidated (for example, Ardmore with Auckland), with the trend in the last 15 years to consider and effect mergers with universities closely allied to them, for example, the Hamilton and Palmerston North colleges amalgamated with Waikato and Massey respectively. In the 2004–2005 period, the Auckland and Wellington colleges merged with Auckland University and Victoria University respectively. In 2007, the Christchurch College of Education merged with the University of Canterbury. The remaining stand-alone college in Dunedin merged with the University of Otago in January 2007.[citation needed]

Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITP)

Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITP) offer general technical and vocational education, as well as undertaking applied research. Most learners study vocational programmes at levels 1-6 of the NZQF, but following education reforms during the 1990s ITPs have been permitted to offer degree and postgraduate programmes, and are increasingly active in this space - including a small number of doctorates. The vocational qualifications offered by ITPs are developed by Industry Training Organisations, but they are free to set their own curricula and assessments. These are generally based on practical knowledge in a working environment,[5] and learning may take place in classrooms, simulated work environments, external workplaces, or a combination of these. Certification upon graduation is industry-related and real work experiences are often part of the curriculum.[5] The peak body for this sector is New Zealand Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (NZITP) .

On 1 August, the Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced that the Government would merge all 16 institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs) into a single entity in April 2020, citing declining student numbers and better allocation of government resources. Polytechnics have been cautiously optimistic about the changes despite concerns about losing their autonomy to a national organisation. While Ara Institute of Canterbury chief executive Tony Gray and Otago Polytechnic chief executive Phil Ker have cautiously welcomed the changes, the opposition National Party's Education spokesperson Shane Reti and Southern Institute of Technology CEO Penny Simonds have opposed the merger, saying that it would lead to job losses.[6][7][8]


A wānanga is a publicly owned tertiary institution that provides education in a Māori cultural context. Section 162 of the Education Act 1989[9] (re-affirmed by the Waitangi Tribunal in 2005) specifies that wānanga resemble mainstream universities in many ways. As of 2009, wānanga offer certificates, diplomas, and bachelor-level degrees, with some wānanga providing programmes in specialized areas up to doctorate level.

Wānanga educational programmes are accredited through the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) and the Ministry of Education, and are partly governed by New Zealand's Tertiary Education Commission (TEC).

In Maori tradition the word wānanga conveyed meanings related to highly evolved knowledge, lore, occult arts, and also "forum" in the sense of a discussion to arrive at deeper understanding.[citation needed]

Recognised wānanga in New Zealand

Other tertiary education organisations

Private Training Establishments

Private Training Establishments (PTEs) are privately owned firms or NGOs that provide training, usually in a specific niche such as tourism, design or ICT.[5] They also provide training to special needs groups or in time frames that support different learner needs, and a significant number offer English language teaching. Their tutors are generally drawn from industry rather than academia and the goal for most learners is to reach employment quickly. It has been argued that private trainers have the ability to respond quickly to the changing needs of industry.[who?] Most providers provide courses that are NZQA-accredited; these usually lead to certificates and diplomas, although a small number of PTEs also offer degrees. PTE programmes that are NZQA-approved receive government funding subsidies, and students in these programmes are able to access the public student financial support system. Private trainers offer an alternative to state schools and many learners prefer the supportive environment of most private trainers.[citation needed] Several peak bodies represent this sector, including Independent Tertiary Education New Zealand, Quality Tertiary Institutions, and English New Zealand.

Industry training organisations

Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) are established under the Industry Training and Apprenticeships Act 1992 to set skill standards and establish training arrangements for a given industry or set of related industries. To do this they develop and maintain competency-based Assessment Standards and qualifications related to their industry, and co-ordinate apprenticeships and other structured training for employees (which may involve on-job learning, off-job courses at another tertiary organisation, or a mix of both). This enables employees to gain a qualification from the New Zealand Qualifications Framework while being in a full-time job. From 2001 to 2014 they also had a formal role to provide skills leadership for their industry or industries, but this was removed by the National Government following a review of industry training ordered by then-Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, and Employment Steven Joyce.[10]

ITOs are the only organisations permitted to develop non-degree vocational qualifications, with a few specific exceptions in areas such as adult teaching. However, individual tertiary providers (including ITPs, PTEs, and wānanga) are able to develop their own programmes and curricula that lead toward those qualifications. Uniquely in comparison to similar bodies in other countries, such as the United Kingdom's Sector Skills Councils or Australia's Industry Skills Councils, ITOs work with individual firms and trainees to directly enrol learners and often manage assessments.

ITOs are owned by industries, recognised under statute, and receive funding from both government and industry. Rather than being established directly by government, they exist as independent organisations and must apply for recognition as an ITO from the Minister of Education; as part of this process they must demonstrate they have sufficient support from the industry for which they claim coverage. Each ITO has to regularly reapply for recognition, and industries can decide that their skill needs are best-served by joining with one or more other ITOs. This means that the number of industry training organisations can change over time, and has fluctuated from a high of 52 in 1996 to 11 in 2019.[11][12] ITOs currently cover most of New Zealand's industries from traditional trades like building and plumbing, the primary industries, and manufacturing, through to retail, government, and community services. The Industry Training Federation represents ITOs.

On 1 August 2019, Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced that the Government would be replacing the eleven industrial training organisations with four to seven workforce development councils that would be set up by 2022 to influence vocational education and training. ITOs had opposed the Government's proposed merger, claiming that it would damage an already working system. Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation chief executive Warwick Quinn described the Government's decision as disappointing. Garry Fisseden, CEO of The Skills Organisation, also spoke out against the merger proposal, saying that ITOs played an essential role in bridging the communication gap between industry and learning organisations.[6][7]


Funding for tertiary education in New Zealand is through a combination of government subsidies and student fees. The government funds approved courses by a bulk grant (the Student Achievement Component) based on the number of enrolled students in each course and the amount of study time each course requires. Courses are rated on an equivalent full-time Student (EFTS) basis. Specific funding for each individual organisation is negotiated with the Tertiary Education Commission and established through an Investment Plan that allocates funding over a rolling triennium. Students enrolled in NZQA-approved courses at providers can access student loans and student allowances to assist with fees and living costs.

Industry Training is funded differently than other forms of tertiary education. A separate pool of funding - the Industry Training Fund - is used to support training and apprenticeships organised through ITOs, and this system is based on a Standard Training Measure (STM) rate that is considerably lower than per-EFTS rates for courses in the same field and at the same level. The difference in per-learner funding levels between provider-based and ITO-based tertiary education has been a considerable source of tension since the establishment of the industry training system. Apprentices and trainees learning through ITOs are unable to access student financial support (both allowances and loans), on the basis that they are full-time employees earning a wage or salary.

Funding for tertiary institutions has been criticised recently due to high fees and funding not keeping pace with costs or inflation. Some also point out that high fees are leading to skills shortages in New Zealand as high costs discourage participation and graduating students seek well paying jobs off shore to pay for their student loans debts. As a result, education funding has been undergoing an ongoing review in recent years.[citation needed]


Most tertiary education students rely on some form of state funding to pay for their tuition and living expenses. Mostly, students rely on state provided student loans and allowances. Secondary school students sitting the state run examinations are awarded scholarships, depending on their results, that assist in paying some tuition fees. Universities and other funders also provide scholarships or funding grants to promising students, though mostly at a postgraduate level. Some employers will also assist their employees to study (full-time or part-time) towards a qualification that is relevant to their work. People who receive state welfare benefits and are retraining, or returning to the workforce after raising children, may be eligible for supplementary assistance, however students already in full or part-time study are not eligible for most state welfare benefits.

Over the term of the fifth National Government (2008-2017), considerable changes were made to the tertiary education sector.[13]

In 2017, following the election of the sixth Labour-led Government, Minister of Education Chris Hipkins introduced an entitlement of one year's fees-free tertiary education for all New Zealand school leavers.[14] This entitlement applies to New Zealand citizens or permanent residents who have not yet undertaken post-compulsory education at Level 3 or above of the Qualifications Framework.[15] It covers fees for any study at Level 3 or above, including apprenticeships, provider-based vocational education, or degree-level study; it does not contribute to living costs.

Student allowances

Student Allowances, which are non-refundable grants to students of limited means, are means tested and the weekly amount granted depends on residential and citizenship qualifications, age, location, marital status, dependent children as well as personal, spousal or parental income. The allowance is intended for living expenses, so most students receiving an allowance will still need a student loan to pay for their tuition fees.

Student loans

The Student Loan Scheme is available to all New Zealand citizens and permanent residents. It covers course fees, course related expenses, and can also provide a weekly living allowance for full-time students. The loan must be repaid at a rate dependent on income and repayments are normally recovered via the income tax system by wage deductions. Low income earners and students in full-time study can have the interest on their loans written off.

On 26 July 2005, the Labour Party announced that they would abolish interest on Student Loans, if re-elected at the 2005 general election, which they were. From April 2006, the interest component on Student Loans was abolished for students who live in New Zealand. This has eased pressure on the government from current students. However, it has caused resentment from past students many of whom have accumulated large interests amounts in the years 1992–2006.[citation needed] The National Party initially opposed the interest free loans policy, but after it lost the 2005 election, in early 2008 said it would keep interest off student loans.[16]

The Fifth National Government kept interest off loans, but increased the repayment rate from 10 to 12 per cent and reduced eligibility for the loans.

Unions and students' associations

Tertiary Education Union

The New Zealand Tertiary Education Union (TEU) (in Maori: Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa) is the main union in the tertiary education sector, and represents the interests of more than 10,000 workers employed sector across New Zealand. Its membership includes teachers and workers employed in all occupations in universities, polytechnics, institutes of technology, wānanga, other tertiary education providers and allied organisations.

Student associations

There are a large number of student associations in New Zealand. The system of student associations operated on the basis of compulsory membership until 2012, after ACT MP Heather Roy's voluntary student membership bill was passed in 2011.

A large number belong to the New Zealand Union of Students' Associations (NZUSA). The parallel overarching student association for Māori is Te Mana Ākonga, the National Māori Students' Association.

Most universities have a student association, and some have additional Māori and Pacific student associations which generally work in parallel with the main association.

Other nationwide student bodies

In addition to the main students' associations at each institution, there are also a number of other student bodies, which include:

See also


  1. ^ "Background to the New Zealand Qualifications Framework" . New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA). Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  2. ^ "Education Act 1989 No 80 (as at 21 December 2018), Public Act 241 Functions of Committee – New Zealand Legislation" . Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  3. ^ a b c Pollock, Kerryn. "Universities before 1990" . Te Ara. Retrieved 31 August 2014.
  4. ^ "Education Act 1989" . Retrieved 1 October 2014.
  5. ^ a b c "Vocational education in New Zealand" . UNESCO-UNEVOC. 2012. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  6. ^ a b Gerritsen, John (1 August 2019). "Government confirms major overhaul of polytechnics, apprenticeships" . Radio New Zealand. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  7. ^ a b Small, Zane; Macdonald, Laura (1 August 2019). "Government confirms polytechnics will merge as single entity in 2020" . Newshub. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  8. ^ Devlin, Collette (1 August 2019). "16 institutes of technology and polytechnics being replaced by one mega polytech" . Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  9. ^ section 162 of the Education Act 1989
  10. ^ "Joyce, Steven: Industry Training and Apprenticeships Amendment Bill – First Reading - New Zealand Parliament" . Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  11. ^ Ministry of Education. "History of Industry Training" (PDF). Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  12. ^ Industry Training Federation. "Our members" . Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  13. ^ The New Zealand Union of Students Associations has compiled a list of all the changes made by the National Government. See
  14. ^ "80,000 people eligible for fees free" . The Beehive. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  15. ^ Education, New Zealand Ministry of (17 July 2018). "Eligibility criteria and fees-free coverage" . Tertiary Education Commission. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  16. ^ "Nats U-turn on interest free student loans" . The Dominion Post. 31 January 2008. Retrieved 8 January 2015.

External links


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