Going on to, and achieving in, higher-level tertiary education

Publication Details

This project looked at factors associated with participation and achievement in higher-level tertiary education for young people up to the age of 20. One report looks at factors associated with participation at Level 4 and above, the other looks at factors associated with achievement in Level 4 certificates, Level 5 to 7 certificates and diplomas and bachelors degrees. The main findings from the project are summarised on this page.

Author(s): David Earle, Tertiary Sector Performance Analysis, Ministry of Education

Date Published: September 2018

What factors matter for young people studying and achieving at Level 4 and above?

The studies

These studies provide a comprehensive analysis of factors associated with young people's participation and achievement in tertiary education. The studies look at young people up to the age of 20. The first study identifies factors associated with participation in tertiary education at Level 4 and above. The second study identifies factors associated with first year pass rates, retention and completion in Level 4 certificates, Level 5 to 7 certificates and diplomas and bachelors degrees.

These studies look at what things that have an association with going on to study, and achieving in study. This association does not mean there is a causal link to the outcome. Something can be strongly associated with not going to higher level tertiary education, but not be the actual reason that this happens.

A key purpose of these studies is to build better evidence on which groups of young people are most at risk of not participating, or not achieving in tertiary education at Level 4 and above.

The full reports are available as downloads on this page.

School achievement matters

Going on to tertiary study …

The qualification you leave school with has the strongest relationship to whether you go on to higher level tertiary education. This fits with school qualifications being entry requirements for higher level study.

For young people who leave school with the same level of qualification, those who performed better within their qualifications are more likely to go on to higher level tertiary study.

Doing well in tertiary study …

Your success in school has the strongest relationship with how well you succeed in tertiary education.

School achievement is strongly associated with passing most first year courses across all levels of study.

Passing most first year courses has a very strong association with staying in study after the first year, and completing a qualification.

Among those who pass most of their first year courses, there are similar rates of retention and completion across fields of study, gender and ethnic groups.

But not all things are equal

Some groups continue to enjoy advantage, or to face disadvantage, in going on to, and achieving at Level 4 and above – even once their school achievement has been taken into account:

  • Young people whose parents have a bachelors qualification are more likely to go on to study at Level 4 and above – but they are have no greater success than those with similar school achievement.
  • Young people who receive mental health services are somewhat less likely to go on to study at Level 4 and above. Those who do are less likely to achieve and complete higher level qualifications.
  • Māori young people are generally less likely to go on to study at Level 4 and above, and those who do are less likely to achieve and complete qualifications, even if they have done well at school.
  • Pacific young people are just as likely to go on to study at Level 4 and above as other young people with similar school achievement, but less likely to complete qualifications if they are studying for bachelors degrees.
  • Asian young people are more likely to go on to study at Level 4 and above than other young people with similar school achievement, but have similar achievement as others within tertiary education.
  • European young people are more likely to achieve and complete tertiary qualifications than other students with similar school achievement and backgrounds.

And other things can interfere

Significant life events can have an effect on going on to study at Level 4 and above, over and above school achievement and other factors. These include:

  • having a child – for both mothers and fathers
  • being caught up in the justice system
  • having long periods out of education or employment
  • taking up full-time employment before age 18.

The factors looked at in these two studies only explain some of the variation in participation and achievement. This reinforces that young people’s decisions to go to study, and to stay in study once they are there, are complex and affected by other things that are not measured in the data.

Where the data came from

Both studies used a wide range of data from the Statistics New Zealand Integrated Data Infrastructure. Access to the anonymised data used in these studies was provided by Statistics New Zealand in accordance with security and confidentiality provisions of the Statistics Act 1975, and secrecy provisions of the Tax Administration Act 1994. The findings are not Official Statistics. The results in these reports and have been confidentialised to protect individuals from identification.

Contact Us

For more information about the content on this webpage, please email the:  Tertiary Mailbox