Moving on up: What young people earn after their tertiary education

Publication Details

This report forms part of a series called Beyond Tertiary Study. It looks at the outcomes for young people who complete a qualification in the New Zealand tertiary education system. It looks at differences in incomes and employment rates for different types of qualifications. So the information in this report can help young people as they make decisions about what to study.

Author(s): Paul Mahoney, Zaneta Park and Roger Smyth, Tertiary Sector Performance Analysis, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: January 2013

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This report is available as a download (please refer to the 'Downloads' inset box).  For links to related publications/ information that may be of interest please refer to the 'Where to Find Out More' inset box.


People take tertiary education for many reasons.  They think about what they enjoy, what they are good at, what they are capable of and what will get them started on a career.  Good careers are associated with better health, better well-being and more satisfying lives.  So many young people are making their tertiary education choices to gain the skills they need for satisfying and rewarding work.  They use a range of information sources to help them make these choices.  The information in this report is designed to add to the data available to young people facing those decisions. 

This information is not just important to students and to their families.  The Government makes a very large investment in tertiary education each year – funding tertiary education providers, providing subsidised student loans and granting student allowances.  One major purpose of the Government’s investment is to help improve the New Zealand economy and society by raising the level of skill in the population – which helps make our society more productive, contributes to the creation of wealth and leads to better social outcomes. 

Studying the earnings of graduates is one way of looking at the contribution that the tertiary education system is making to New Zealand’s society and economy.  So the information in this report contributes to an understanding of the value New Zealand receives for the investment we make in tertiary education.

Key Findings

Earnings increase with the level of qualification completed. Five years after finishing study, the median earnings of young people who complete a bachelors degree is 53 percent above the national median earnings and 46 percent above the median for young people who gain a certificate at levels 1-3.

Employment rates increase with level of qualification gained. For example, in the first year after study, 56 percent of young bachelors graduates were in employment and 38 percent were in further study. Of young people who had completed a level 1-3 certificate, 37 percent were in employment and 48 percent were taking more study.

Very few young people who complete a qualification at diploma level or above are on a benefit in the first five years after study.  The benefit rate is 4 percent for diploma graduates and 2 percent at bachelors level.  But it is around 10 percent for those who graduated with certificates at levels 1-3.

Earnings vary considerably by field of study. Young graduates with bachelors degrees in medicine earn the most after studying. The median income for medical graduates is over $110,000 five years after leaving study.

Dental studies and pharmacy bachelors graduates earn the second highest incomes among young bachelors graduates after five years, with median earnings of over $76,100 and $75,100.

Engineering graduates with an honours degree have median earnings of $65,000 five years after study, compared with $58,300 for a bachelors degree without honours.

Bachelors degree graduates in creative arts have the lowest earnings among young bachelors graduates after five years and they have relatively high rates of benefit receipt.

Some qualification types and some fields are associated with high rates of further study. Nearly half of all young people who complete a certificate move into further study the next year. Fifty-eight percent of young bachelors graduates in natural and physical sciences were in further study one year after completion of a bachelors degree, and 32 percent after five years. Other fields with high rates of continuing study include society and culture, health and agriculture, environmental and related studies.

Where to find out more

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