The impact of COVID-19 on tertiary education in New Zealand: Initial impact on participation Publications
This report is the first in a series that analyses the initial and longer-term impact of COVID-19 on the tertiary education system in New Zealand. This report used indicative part-year data to take an early look at the impact on participation in provider-based and workplace-based tertiary education. An important caveat of this analysis is that it represents participation trends up until August 2021. The impact of the August 2021 lockdowns (or any future COVID-19 restrictions) will not be captured in this initial look at the impact of the pandemic.
Author(s): Warren Smart, Tertiary Sector Performance Analysis, Ministry of Education
Date Published: December 2021
The analysis in this report looks at the demographic and study-related characteristics of learners to provide a more detailed view of where changes in participation have taken place and what the scale of those changes is. The focus is on how participation differed between 2019 and 2021 with 2019 chosen as a baseline year as it was the last year before the COVID-19 pandemic commenced in New Zealand.
Provider-based tertiary education
The analysis of provider-based tertiary education shows that domestic enrolments in formal qualifications have increased significantly in 2021 after an extended period of declining or flat enrolments. International enrolments decreased in both 2020 and 2021 reflecting the closure of the New Zealand border. Compared with 2019, as-at-August data showed that the number of domestic students in 2021 was 11% higher (student numbers were 310,970 in 2019 and 345,910 in 2021), while international student numbers were 33% lower (student numbers were 54,660 in 2019 and 36,770 in 2021).
Looking more closely at the timing of the increase in domestic students, the as-at-August data shows that numbers began to increase in the second half of 2020 compared with the same time in 2019 and increased again in the first half of 2021. However, enrolments in the second half of 2021 decreased at most levels/types of qualification compared with the previous year.
In terms of the increase in domestic enrolments between 2019 and 2021, the key insights of the as-at-August data were:
- The highest rate of growth in students was at the masters degree level (23%) and Level 3-7 non-degree qualifications (the highest being 20% in Level 5-7 certificates/diplomas). Although the growth rate in bachelors degree enrolments was lower due to the multi-year nature of the qualification, the number of students in this level of qualification increased by close to 6,000.
- There was a much higher growth rate in part-time students (18%) compared with students enrolled on a full-time basis (6.4%). This pattern was mainly seen in Level 3-7 certificates/diplomas.
- Students enrolling at tertiary providers for the first time (19%) and those who had not been enrolled at a tertiary education provider for a least a year (18%) showed the largest rates of growth. In terms of the latter group, the increase in students started in 2020. Both first-time students and returning students from the previous year did not show an increase in numbers in 2020, but showed substantial increases in 2021.
- In terms of subsector, Te Pūkenga exhibited the largest growth rate in students (19%), benefitting from a surge in vocational enrolments at the non-degree level, followed by private training establishments (12%) and universities (9.1%). However, the number of students at wānanga grew only slightly (0.6%). In fact, the number of students at wānanga decreased by 11% between 2019 and 2020 before increasing by 13% between 2020 and 2021.
- The fields of study which saw significant changes in the number of equivalent full-time students (EFTS) varied by level of qualification. The data shows that:
- in Level 1-2 certificates there was a large decrease in EFTS in Language and Literature (mainly in Te Reo Māori) between 2019 and 2020, before numbers rebounded in 2021
- in Level 3-7 certificates/diplomas, fields of study such as Building, Human Welfare Studies and Services, and Language and Literature showed the largest increases in EFTS. Some of the fields that showed large increases were ones that qualify for the government’s Targeted Training and Apprenticeship Fund (TTAF) policy. There were also fields that showed significant decreases such as Tourism and Business and Management
- in bachelors degree level and higher qualifications, the largest increases in EFTS were in Teacher Education/Other Education, Behavioural Science, and Nursing.
- The demographic data showed that:
- the largest growth rates in students were among age groups 25 years and older. The 40 and over age group increased by 14% and the 25 to 39 age group by 20%. This compares with growth rates of 2.6% for under 20s and 6.7% for 20 to 24 year-olds
- there was a slightly higher growth rate for women (12%) than men (8.9%) overall and at almost all levels/types of qualifications. The exception to this pattern was Level 5-7 certificates/diplomas where the growth rate for men (30%) was twice that of women (14%)
- the Asian ethnic group (20%) had the highest growth rate in students, while Māori (5.6%) had around half the growth rate of Europeans (12%) and Pacific Peoples (12%).
With the borders closed the size of the international student starting cohorts have declined and this is starting to flow through into returning students in multi-year qualifications. The as-at August data showed that the number of international students decreased from 54,660 in 2019 to 36,770 in 2021, a decrease of 33%. The number of international students at all levels of study decreased. Although students at the doctoral degree level showed the smallest rate of decrease (5.8%) compared with larger decreases in bachelors degrees (20%) and masters degrees (18%).
Where international students are studying has also changed during the pandemic. Although international students have been decreasing overall, the number of international students studying offshore has been increasing. By 2021, international students studying offshore were 22% of total international students, compared with 3.7% in 2019.
When comparing the impact of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and the COVID-19 pandemic there were both some similarities and some differences in participation patterns for domestic students. The data showed that:
- there was a much larger increase in students in Level 3-7 certificates/diplomas during the pandemic
- in Level 3-7 certificates/diplomas, the increase in EFTS in Building during the COVID-19 pandemic was a standout feature, while the number of EFTS in Building declined in the GFC as the construction sector struggled. Also, during the GFC, there were not the decreases in EFTS in Tourism and Hospitality that have been seen in the COVID-19 pandemic
- at the bachelors degree or higher level, large increases in EFTS in ‘safe-haven’ fields of Teacher Education/Other Education and Nursing were seen in both the GFC and pandemic.
Workplace-based tertiary education
In terms of workplace-based tertiary education, the pandemic arrived at a time where the number of apprentices had been increasing over time, while the number of trainees had been decreasing. Overall, the data shows a divergent track in participation for apprentices and trainees during the pandemic. The August year-to-date data shows that the number of apprentices has increased by 49% between 2019 and 2021, while the number of trainees has decreased by 14%.
The participation data shows that the Level 4 lockdown in 2020 led to a decrease in the number of apprentices and trainees starting in the months that were affected. However, once that lockdown was over, from the second half of 2020 there was a substantial increase in the number of apprentices compared to the same time the previous year. At this time the government introduced a number of policies designed to support participation in apprenticeships and certain vocational areas of study (Targeted Training and Apprenticeship Fund and the Apprenticeship Boost Initiative) and this has been associated with an increase in apprentice numbers. The number of trainees did bounce back to 2019 levels in the second half of 2020, but not to the extent of apprentice numbers.
The August year-to-date data showed that between 2019 and 2021:
- in terms of field of study, by far the largest contributor to the increase in apprentice numbers was the field of Building.
- in terms of demographic changes, the data showed that for apprentices:
- Māori (67%) and Pacific Peoples (66%) exhibited high rates of growth
- women (103%) also exhibited high rates of growth compared with men (42%), albeit off a relatively small base
- as with provider-based tertiary education, there were faster rates of growth in older age groups with the 25 to 39 age group increasing by 55% and the 40 years and over age group by 79%.
- In terms of demographic changes for trainees, the data showed:
- most ethnic groups, apart from learners identifying as Asian (an increase of 0.1%), displayed large decreases in numbers of between 16% and 20%
- women (-19%) exhibited larger decreases than men (-11%)
- the largest decreases were seen in the 20 to 24 year age group (-22%) and the 40 and over age group (-18%).
There are substantial differences between the trend in apprentice numbers during the GFC and during the COVID-19 pandemic. With construction-based training such a large proportion of apprenticeships, the slow-down in construction during the GFC resulted in a fall in the number of apprentices, whereas the continued strength in construction during the COVID-19 pandemic helped contribute to significant growth in apprentice numbers.
- Provider-based tertiary indication covers enrolments in universities, Te Pūkenga, wānanga, and private training establishments that received Student Achievement Component funding, and/or had students with student loans or allowances, and/or Youth Guarantee programmes.