How does New Zealand's education system compare?
OECD's Education at a Glance 2010

Publication Details

Every year, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) publishes Education at a Glance, a set of indicators that compares the education systems of its member countries, and participating partner countries.

The report How does New Zealand's education system compare? draws on the New Zealand data in Education at a Glance 2010 and summarises the characteristics and performance of New Zealand's education system in an international context.

Author(s): David Scott and Paul Gini, Strategy and System Performance, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: September 2010

Chapter 7: Our youth

Fifteen to 19 year-olds in New Zealand do not stay on at upper secondary as long as they do in other countries. It is more common for our youth to leave after one year of upper secondary than it is in other OECD countries, where at least two years of upper secondary is more common. Our youth are more likely to get a job, or move to post-secondary study, than youth in other countries, but even so, 8.4% of our 15 to 19 year-olds were not in education or employment in 2008, the 7th highest rate in the OECD.

Many New Zealanders delay, or decide later in life, to do post-secondary study; we have one of the highest entry and enrolments rates for vocational or degree study at older ages. By age 29, New Zealanders have spent about as much time in education as the OECD average, and our attainment rates – especially at diploma level – remain some of the highest in the OECD. Having said this, one in five 25-34 year-olds do not have a year 12 equivalent school qualification, about the OECD average but higher than many countries we would compare with.  

The percentage of 15-19 year-olds in education (either secondary or tertiary) has remained relatively constant between 72% and 75% since 2000, while the OECD average has gradually increased each year from 77% to 82% in 2008. Ranking 26th= out of 30 countries, the percentage of New Zealand 15 to 19 year-olds in education is one of the lowest in the OECD.

In line with lower enrolment rates, the rate at which New Zealand is producing young people qualified to enter tertiary study ("upper secondary graduation rate") is also below the OECD average (78% compared with 80% – and ranked 15th out 26 OECD countries). The rate for males is lower at 67% compared to the OECD average for males of 76%, while the rate for females is higher, at 87% compared to the OECD average for females of 84%12. While more of our youth are staying on to year 12 or 13 than in the past – in particular, since the introduction of NCEA in 2002 – NZ still has relatively more of its youth leaving school after year 11 than in other countries. One-year upper secondary qualifications are less common in other OECD countries, and in OECD terms are not considered as upper secondary graduation.

Figure 19: Percentage of 15 to 19 year-olds not in education by whether employed or not (2008)
Image of Figure 19: Percentage of 15 to 19 year-olds not in education by whether employed or not (2008).

  1. See source Chart C3.2a in EAG 2010 for full notes.

While enrolment rates may be low, more of our 15 to 19 year-olds are in employment or post-secondary education than is the case for other OECD countries. New Zealand had the third highest employment rate for 15 to 19 year-olds who weren't otherwise in education, and the second highest when those also in education were included. More youth transition more or less directly to post-secondary study than is the case for 15 to 19 year-olds in other countries; 3% at age 16 (ranked 1st), 7% at age 17 (ranked 5th), 34% at age 18 (ranked 6th), and 44% at age 19 (ranked 8th). However, despite higher transition both to employment and post-secondary, 8.4% leave education and do not enter employment.  This rate (sometimes referred to as "not in education, employment or training", or "NEET") was the 7th highest in the OECD in 2008.

While enrolment and completion in schools may be relatively lower than the OECD average, entry to and participation in post-school education remains high.  The percentage of 15 to 19 year-olds in post-school study is higher than is the case in many other OECD countries. The percentage of 20 to 29 year-olds in education is 7th highest in the OECD, while at older ages, New Zealand, along with Australia, has one of the highest rates of enrolment in education in the OECD.

Most of these indicators are based on data for the year 2008. For New Zealand, this reflects a period before the effects of the current economic recession had largely begun to be felt in terms of increased demand for education. These effects are likely to be felt sooner and more significantly by those with lower qualifications, and by younger adults. A special section in EAG 2010 (pages 342-3) discusses the impact of the recession on youth.

Some of these 15 to 19 year-olds may decide to continue study later in life. New Zealand has the oldest age profile for degree entrants in the OECD. Half of New Zealand students who entered degrees for the first time were aged 20 or over, while 20% of first-time entrants to degrees were aged 33 or above. A NZ 15 year-old can expect to have had an additional 6.7 years in education by the time they reach age 30. This is about equal to the Oecd average. They can also expect to have had two years neither in education or employment, which again, is about the oecd average.

Attainment levels remain high in New Zealand, and while the contribution of recent immigrants to this is not reported, it is likely that many youth who leave school early, do return to successfully complete tertiary qualifications later in life.  Having said this, one in five 25-34 year-olds do not have year 12 equivalent school qualification, about the OECD average but higher than many countries we would compare with.


  1. This rate includes adults doing post-secondary study equivalent to school level, so the graduation rate for school youth is lower still.

Sources and further information on this section:

Education at a Glance 2010: OECD Indicators, Chapters C3 (Youth transitions), C1 (Participation), A2 (Upper secondary graduation and entry to tertiary), A3 (tertiary graduation, A4 (Tertiary completion rates).