Completion of tertiary qualifications and completion rates
What We Have Found
In 2016, 119,000 New Zealanders completed a qualification, with over a third of these being bachelors degrees or postgraduate qualifications.
The qualification completion rates for level 1 to 7 diplomas and certificates have followed a strong upward trend in recent years for both full-time and part-time students, while they have been consistently high for bachelors degrees and postgraduate qualifications.
Date Updated : September 2017
This indicator looks at how many people complete a qualification each year and the rate at which people complete qualifications. To calculate this rate, people who start a qualification in a particular year have their progress traced over the succeeding years. The qualification completion rates used here vary in length dependent on the type and level of the qualification studied. For example, a bachelors degree can vary in length from three to six years and a doctoral degree can take six, or more, years to complete.
Why This Is Important
The number of students who complete a qualification and the qualification completion rate – the rate at which New Zealanders gain qualifications from the tertiary education system – are useful measures of the effectiveness of the tertiary education system. However, it should be recognised that there are many factors outside of the tertiary education system that will impact on outcomes, and that concepts of retention and completion as markers of quality need to be read in the context of other indicators.
While about 12 percent of students gain more than one qualification, some students may enrol for a qualification, but abandon it once they have met their objectives. This may mean they only pass two or three courses. Many people leave study (in particular, in times of higher employment), with only one or two courses left to complete for their qualification. To that extent, if a high proportion of students do not complete their qualifications, this does not necessarily mean there is a system failure. Lower completion rates in a qualification may not mean that learning is wasted because, for example, course passes may be cross-credited to another qualification.
New Zealand's lifelong approach to tertiary learning, relatively open access to enrolment, and easy access to student loans, encourage students with a focus on part-time course-based study, and those trying to combine work with study. This is in contrast to other countries, which have higher academic entry requirements, more full-time study, and less access to student support. Recent statistics in Britain show that the institutions with the highest drop-out rates were also the ones that generally excelled at attracting students from under-represented groups. Therefore, completion goals cannot be viewed in isolation from access goals.
How We Are Going
In 2016, 119,000 domestic students completed a qualification. From 2010 to 2015, more than 120,000 students have completed a qualification each year.
The recent high numbers of students completing qualifications compared with earlier years, reflect two factors: the movement of a population bulge of young people into tertiary education in recent years and higher qualification completion rates.
Figure 1: Number of domestic students who completed a qualification by level
Rising qualification completion rates
The qualification completion rates for level 1 to 4 certificates have followed a strong upward trend in recent years for both full-time and part-time students. These rates now appear to have stabilised and the latest four-year rate for full-time students was close to 80 percent for level 1 to 3 certificates and just over 70 percent for level 4 certificates.
Figure 2: Four-year qualification completion rates for level 1 to 3 certificates by study pattern (domestic students)
While students who progress to higher-level study without completing a qualification at the lower level are not included in the qualification completion rates, some five percent of students who start a level 1 to 7 diploma/certificate are retained in study and may complete a qualification at a higher level. For people who start a bachelors or higher qualification about two to three percent progress to a higher-level without completing at the lower level.
Figure 3: Four-year qualification completion rates for level 4 certificates by study pattern (domestic students)
The trend in the qualification completion rate for level 5 to 7 diplomas/certificates is continuing to move upward for both full-time and part-time students. For full-time students, the latest four-year rate, at 68 percent, is already higher than the latest six-year rate, at 64 percent.
Figure 4: Six-year qualification completion rates for level 5 to 7 diplomas and certificates by study pattern (domestic students)
Bachelors degrees vary in length from three to six years and consequently there are bigger differences in the qualification completion rates for full-time and part-time students. The rates have increased slightly in recent years for both full-time and part-time students. The latest six-year rate was 74 percent for full-timers and 33 percent for part-timers.
Figure 5: Eight-year qualification completion rates for bachelors degrees by study pattern (domestic students)
The four-year completion rate for graduate diplomas/certificates was 78 percent for full-time students and 53 percent for part-time students.
Figure 6: Four-year qualification completion rates for graduate diplomas and certificates by study pattern (domestic students)
Like bachelors degrees, postgraduate qualifications also vary in length. The completion rates for these qualifications have been consistently high, ranging from around 75 percent for doctoral degrees to close to 80 percent for honours qualifications and masters degrees. The completion rates for full-time and part-time students do not vary greatly at these higher qualification levels.
Figure 7: Six-year qualification completion rates for honours qualifications and certificates by study pattern (domestic students)
Figure 8: Six-year qualification completion rates for masters degrees by study pattern (domestic students)
Figure 9: Completion rates for doctoral degrees for domestic students starting study from 2003 to 2011
Notes for the qualification completion rates:
- The progression rate shown here is for students who move to from a lower to higher level of study without completing a qualification at the lower level.
- The completion rate is defined as the percentage of students who have successfully completed a qualification at the level started.
- Data relates to domestic students only.
- Completion rates for any group with fewer than 30 students have been excluded.
- Students who completed a qualification at more than one level have been counted in each level.
- Full-time means students who study mostly full-time and part-time means students who study mostly part-time.
- Students who identify with more than one ethnic group have been counted in each group.
- Totals also include those students with unknown values.
- Honours' refers to bachelors with honours degrees, postgraduate diplomas and postgraduate certificates.
- Profile & Trends 2016: Tertiary Education Outcomes and Qualification Completions
- Ministry of Education (2012). Gaining Qualifications
- Wensvoort , M. (2011) Achievement in formal tertiary education, Wellington: Ministry of Education.
- OECD (2017). Education at a Glance 2017. Paris: OECD.
- Scott, D. and Smart, W. (2005) What Factors Make a Difference to Getting a Degree in New Zealand? Wellington: Ministry of Education. Scott, D. (2009).
- Scott, D. (2009) A Closer Look at Completion in Higher Education in New Zealand Journal of Higher Education Policy & Management 31(2)
Where To Find Out More
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