Participation rates in tertiary education
What We Have Found
The participation rate of New Zealanders in provider-based tertiary education decreased slightly from 2014 to 2015 for both non-degree and higher-level qualifications.
Date Updated: January 2017
Age-standardised participation rates in tertiary education for the population aged 15 years and over.
Why This Is Important
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.
New Zealand's tertiary education sector is diverse. 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 diverse set of people and factors.
How We Are Going
The participation rate of New Zealanders in provider-based tertiary education continued to decrease in 2015. In 2015, 9.8 percent of the population aged 15 years and over participated in tertiary education, compared to 10.2 percent in 2014 and 12 percent in 2010. The rate for non-degree qualifications decreased from 5.4 percent in 2014 to 5.2 percent in 2015 and for degree and higher qualifications the rate decreased from 5.0 percent in 2014 to 4.8 percent in 2015.
Following reviews investigating the quality, relevance and value for money of non-degree qualifications, the government has placed greater emphasis on getting more people into higher-level (and consequently, higher value) qualifications. This led to the significant decrease seen in lower-level enrolments since 2005. Participation in degree and higher-level qualifications has remained relatively stable over the same period.
From 2005 to 2015, age-standardised participation rates in tertiary education have decreased for all ethnic groups. Reviews into the quality, relevance and cost-effectiveness of non-degree qualifications have led to lower levels of participation since 2005 and the reductions are evident across the main ethnic groups. The decrease over this period was largest for the Asian ethnic group (8.1 percentage points), driven mainly by lower participation in non-degree qualifications, while for degree and higher qualifications the rate remained stable. The decrease for Māori (4.9 percentage points) was mainly the result of lower participation in degree and higher qualifications, while participation in non-degree qualifications increased slightly. For Europeans, the overall decrease in the participation rate was 2.5 percentage points. This decrease was mainly driven by lower participation in non-degree qualifications, coupled to a small increase in participation in degree and higher qualifications. Pasifika had a decrease of 1.0 percentage points over the period and this was the result of lower participation in non-degree qualifications, partially offset by higher participation in degree and higher qualifications.
From 2014 to 2015, the age-standardised participation rates decreased slightly for each ethnic group.
Figure 2: Tertiary education participation rates by ethnic group(age-standardised), 2005-2015
Note: In the case of ethnicity and gender, the tertiary education participation rates have been adjusted using the 2015 national age and gender distribution estimates to produce additional age-standardised participation rates. Age-standardised participation rates eliminate the effect of the different age distributions of the ethnic groups. This means that the overall rates for each ethnic group are based on the same age structure, that is, the age structure of the total New Zealand population. This means that if a group has a very high percentage of young people, this is not a distorting factor when we compare them with other groups. These overall rates, which are based on the same age distribution, can then be compared with each other without the presence of confounding by age.
Figure 3: Tertiary education participation rates by ethnic group and broad qualification level
Women have consistently higher rates of participation in tertiary education than men.
In 2015, over 11 percent of women aged 15 years and over participated in provider-based tertiary education, compared to 8.3 percent of men. Both groups show the same general trend of decreasing participation over recent years.
Figure 4: Tertiary education participation rate by gender (age-standardised), 2005-2015
In 2015, participation rates were highest for bachelors degrees (3.5 percent), followed by level 3 and 4 certificates (1.6 percent each), level 5 to 7 diplomas/certificates (1.3 percent), level 2 certificates (0.9 percent) and bachelors degrees with honours and postgraduate diplomas/certificates (0.7 percent). The levels of study with the lowest rates of participation in 2015 were: masters degrees (0.4 percent), graduate diplomas/ certificates (0.3 percent) and doctorate degrees (0.1 percent).
Participation rates for degree-level study and above have remained relatively stable since 2005. The most movement within degree-level study or above since 2005 was in graduate diplomas/certificates where the participation rate decreased 0.13 percentage points. Movement within bachelors degrees with honours and postgraduate diplomas/certificates was not far behind this, increasing by 0.10 percentage points since 2005.
Participation rates for level 1 to 7 diplomas and certificates all decreased since 2005, with level 2 certificates dropping the most (2.0 percentage points) followed by level 3 certificates (1.2 percentage points).
Figure 5: Tertiary education participation rates by qualification level, 2005-2015
Evidence about what works for this indicator can be found in:
- Profile & Trends 2015: New Zealand's Annual Tertiary Education Enrolments. pp 4-5 and pp 9-10.
Where To Find Out More
For more publication-related information, please email the: Information Officer Mailbox