Participation rates in tertiary education
What We Have FoundThe age-standardised participation rate in tertiary education continued to decline in 2012. From 2005 to 2012 the participation rate has dropped from 13.7% to 10.6%.
Date Updated: December 2013
Age-standardised participation rates in tertiary education for the population aged 15 and over.
Why This Is Important
The tertiary education sector is a diverse sector. Its scope ranges from informal non-assessed community courses in schools through to undergraduate degrees and advanced, research-based postgraduate degrees. It provides pathways for a diverse range of learners, from school leavers to workers, the unemployed to students from overseas, and to those pursuing an interest or hobby or more social interaction. It has a diverse range of learning objectives and is influenced by a very diverse set of people and factors.
Changes in participation and achievement in tertiary education are indicators of the extent to which New Zealanders are developing the skills needed for a modern knowledge economy. New Zealand's lifelong approach to tertiary learning, relatively open access to enrolment, and easy access to student loans, have tended to increase the number of students with a focus on part-time course-based study, and those trying to combine work with study. This compares to other countries which have higher academic entry requirements, more full-time study, and less access to student support.
How We Are Going
The participation rate in tertiary education continued to decline from a peak of 13.7% in 2005. From 2010 to 2012 the participation rate dropped again from 12.0% to 10.6%.
The participation rate in tertiary study by females has been consistently higher than the male participation rate. In 2012, the female tertiary participation rate was 12.2% of the female population aged 15 and over, compared to a male participation rate of 8.9%. This gender difference in tertiary participation between the male and female populations has been increasing for some years. From 2006 to 2012, the gap has increased from 15.8% to 36.5%.
The Māori participation rate in tertiary education has increased by 5.9% since 2001 and Māori currently participate in tertiary education at a much higher rate than non-Māori. After adjusting for differences in age distributions, 14.6% of Māori aged 15 and over participated in tertiary education in 2012. Participation rates in 2012 for other ethnic groups are Asian (9.6%), European/Pākehā (9.7%), and Pasifika (11.4%).
Figure 1: Age-standardised participation rates in tertiary education for population aged 15 plus by ethnic group and level of study - undergraduate study (2001 - 2012)
When broken down by level of study, Māori currently have substantially higher rates at non-degree level, while non-Māori participation rates are highest at degree level and above. Proportionately more Asians are studying for tertiary qualifications than other ethnic groups at degree and all levels of post-graduate study, while European/Pākehā have the second highest rates of participation at degree level study and above.
Figure 2: Age-standardised participation rates in tertiary education for population aged 15 plus by ethnic group and level of study - postgraduate study (2001 - 2012)
Participation rates in non-degree courses have generally fallen since 2005. Participation in level 1-3, and level 4 Certificates, among the population aged 15 and over, has decreased by 51% and 29% respectively from 2005-2012. The participation rate for Diplomas has decreased by 18% over this period. This decline may be attributable to changes in funding policies in 2005 that focused on reducing the number of low quality or low relevance qualifications being offered below degree level.
In contrast, there has been slow growth in participation rates at the level of bachelors degree. Between 2005 and 2010, the proportion of the population aged 15 and over undertaking bachelors degree study has increased slightly from 3.5% to 3.7%. During the same time period there have been more school leavers eligible to attend university. The participation rates for post-graduate study from 2005-2012 have remained largely unchanged, with slight increases for doctorates (from 0.13% to 0.14%) and honours degrees/post-graduate certificates/post-graduate diplomas (from 0.56% to 0.66%). The participation rates for masters degrees have decreased slightly from 2005-2012.
Where To Find Out More
To obtain a more complete understanding of participation and achievement in tertiary education, and their related effects, consider indicators:
- Completion of tertiary education
- Tertiary student progression
- Tertiary student retention
- Educational attainment in the adult population
- Ministry of Education (2013). Moving Through: Tertiary Education Strategy Monitoring 2010-2012. Wellington: Ministry of Education
- Ministry of Education (2013). Profile & Trends 2012: New Zealand's Tertiary Education Sector. Wellington: Ministry of Educatiion