Profile & Trends 2009: New Zealand's Tertiary Education Sector

Publication Details

This is edition 12 in an annual series on the tertiary education sector. Key findings from the 2009 report are:

  • 469,000 students were enrolled in formal study programmes in 2009, including 43,500 international students. There were 202,000 industry trainees in 2009.
  • Young tertiary students are studying at a more advanced level. More than three out of four young tertiary students are now studying level 4 qualifications and above.
  • International tertiary student numbers increased by more than 9 percent in 2009. In 2010, international enrolments are expected to increase by about 8 percent, while domestic enrolments are expected to increase slightly.
Short articles on the following topics are included in Profile & Trends 2009: Participation in post-compulsory education following decreases in New Zealand’s economic activity, What do students earn after their tertiary education, Raising the literacy, language and numeracy of the adult population, Progression to, and success in, bachelors-level study, Adults in non-formal and formal learning, and Students who had a disability

Author(s): Tertiary Sector Performance Analysis and Reporting, Ministry of Education

Date Published: August 2010

Key findings


Government released New Zealand’s third tertiary education strategy in December 2009, following a consultation period held in October and November. The higher-level vision of the Tertiary Education Strategy 2010-15 is to provide all New Zealanders with world-class skills and knowledge, raise the skills and knowledge of the workforce, produce high-quality research and enable Māori to enjoy education success as Māori.

Like its predecessor, the third strategy incorporates the tertiary education priorities for the next three to five years. The priorities include having more young people (those aged under 25 years) and more Māori and Pasifika people moving successfully from school into tertiary education and enjoying success at higher qualification levels. Other priorities are to: improve the literacy, language and numeracy of students in level 1 to 3 qualifications; enhance quality assurance; provide incentives for providers to respond better to students and market signals; continue to build international links; and strengthen research outcomes. More detailed information on the strategy and the priorities is included in chapter 2.

The transformation of New Zealand’s tertiary education planning and funding systems, started in 2008, continued throughout 2009. The implementation of investment plans for all types of tertiary education organisations was completed in 2009. Funding was provided for teaching and learning through the student achievement component and for research through the Performance-Based Research Fund and the centres of research excellence.

The number of domestic students increased in 2009, reflecting, in part, the weak employment market. There were more people who took the opportunity to retrain or undertake tertiary study in order to obtain qualifications that could strengthen their position in the labour market. Young people in particular were severely affected by high unemployment rates in 2009 which continued into 2010.

Tertiary education’s contribution to national development includes the maintenance of a skilled workforce. This requires people with qualifications who tend to have more skills than those with no qualifications and for which they earn an income premium. Even though these earnings premiums decreased from 2008 to 2009, due to the continued weakening of the labour market, people with a bachelors or higher qualification had a significant earnings advantage of 66 percent over those with a lower-level or no qualification.

A population bulge of 18 to 19 year-olds moving from school to tertiary education contributed substantially to the increase in tertiary education enrolments from 2008 to 2009.  Additionally, international enrolments, which had been tracking downward, increased for the first time in four years.

The latest increase in domestic and international enrolments followed a three-year downward trend.  A decline in level 1 to 4 certificate study by domestic students had been the main reason for this downward trend,1 although the falls in the number of international students also contributed. Even though level 1 to 3 certificate enrolments continued to decrease in 2009, this was offset by increased domestic enrolments in higher-level qualifications and a substantial increase in international enrolments. The number of students in formal provider-based study2 totalled 469,000 in 2009 compared to 460,000 in 2008 and a high of 501,000 in 2005. The number of learners in industry training continued to increase, reaching 202,000 in 2009.

2010 year

In 2010, tertiary education organisations and the Tertiary Education Commission are working on the development of investment plans that will steer and fund the tertiary education system starting in 2011.  From 2011 onwards, a portion of funding will be linked to performance to provide tertiary education organisations with incentives for improving teaching and pastoral care.

The government also introduced performance incentives in 2010 for students, requiring them to pass at least half of their courses each year in order to retain eligibility for a student loan.  The student loan entitlement was also limited to seven equivalent full-time years, with extra entitlement provided for doctoral and postgraduate study.

Early indications from the Ministry of Education enrolments collection suggest that both domestic and international enrolments are likely to increase further in 2010.  While there were decreases early in 2010 in the unemployment rate and the number of jobless people, the unemployment rate remains almost twice as high as two years ago and the number of jobless exceeds a quarter of a million.  On the basis of early returns, we expect there will be a small increase in the number of domestic enrolments while international enrolments are forecast to increase by about 8 percent.

Statistics and research

Profile & Trends has an associated set of statistical tables available on the Education Counts website –  The statistics in the web tables are used to inform the analysis in Profile & Trends. The tables provide comprehensive coverage of the key trends in the sector’s performance: resourcing, financials, human resources, research, student support, targeted training programmes, adult and community education, industry training, enrolments, participation rates, completion rates, retention rates, progression rates, and outcomes.

More tertiary education material, including information on tertiary education providers, students and other relevant material can be found on the Education Counts website and on the websites of the Ministry of Education and the Tertiary Education Commission.

The statistics in Profile & Trends 2009 are for the year ended 31 December 2009 and have been sourced from the Ministry of Education, unless otherwise stated.


Articles on the following topics are included in this year’s edition of Profile & Trends
  • Participation in post-compulsory education following decreases in New Zealand’s economic activity (chapter 3).
  • What do students earn after their tertiary education? (chapter 4).
  • Raising the literacy, language and numeracy of the adult population (chapter 5).
  • Progression to, and success in, bachelors-level study (chapter 5).
  • Adults in non-formal and formal learning (chapter 5).
  • Students who had a disability (chapter 5)

Tertiary Education in New Zealand

New Zealand’s tertiary education sector makes a wide range of learning available, from foundation skills to doctoral studies. Through its research activities, the sector is a major contributor to the nation’s innovation.

 A key feature of the New Zealand system is the integration of funding and provision across vocational education and training, higher education, workplace training, adult and community education, and tertiary education that takes place within the senior secondary school.

 Funding covers all levels of tertiary education, from second-chance education to doctoral studies. In 2009, provider-based funding of tertiary education was split into a component that supports the costs of teaching and learning and another component that supports tertiary education organisations’ capability, to enable them to focus on their core roles in the tertiary education system. From 2011 onwards, provider capability funding will be included in the student achievement component. Industry training provides workforce skills to a significant number of people. This training is designed by, and delivered in conjunction with, industry, and leads to nationally recognised qualifications. There are also targeted training funds that provide fully subsidised education and training to disadvantaged groups such as those at risk of unemployment.

The government funds such learning as foundation education, adult literacy and English for speakers of other languages. It also provides funding to adult and community education organisations.

The results of learning through tertiary education can be viewed in terms of improving competencies and attainment, or progress towards attainment, of recognised qualifications. A competency includes the skills, knowledge, attitudes and values needed to perform important tasks. The literacy, language and numeracy programmes build adults’ fluency, independence and range in language, literacy and numeracy so that they can use these competencies to participate effectively in all aspects of their lives.

The New Zealand Qualifications Framework provides a standard structure for naming and describing qualifications across levels and types of provision. It incorporates all tertiary qualifications, including the 10 levels of qualification from entry-level certificates to doctorates.


  1. A number of government reviews of the provision of non-degree qualifications were the main drivers for this decline in student enrolments.
  2. Students in formal qualifications of more than one week’s duration, excluding those in workplace-based training, targeted training programmes and the Secondary-Tertiary Alignment Resource programme.