The use of NCEA in the entry requirements of tertiary qualifications
This brief describes the extent to which tertiary education providers use NCEA in the entry requirements for their qualifications.
Author(s): Rebekah Roos and David Scott, Tertiary Sector Performance Analysis, Ministry of Education.
Date Published: November 2018
NCEA is used widely across the tertiary education sector by tertiary providers when setting entry requirements for qualifications.
Some 49% of all qualifications not requiring a prior tertiary qualification include some reference to NCEA in their entry requirements. These qualifications covered 57% of all students who enrolled in tertiary qualifications in 2017. The use of NCEA in entry requirements ranges from 4% of qualifications for Level 1-2 certificates to over 95% of qualifications for bachelors degrees.
Tertiary providers make use of the full range of NCEA levels, credits and, to a lesser extent, subjects when setting entry requirements for qualifications. This analysis provides for the first time quantitative measures of the extent of this use.
The relevance of NCEA for setting entry requirements varies widely by provider type, even for the same level of qualification. NCEA is more often referred to by universities and for higher level qualifications, and least often by wānanga and lower level qualifications.
The analysis measures the extent to which University Entrance (UE) is used by non-university providers including Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs) and Private Training Establishments (PTEs). Half (48%) of all bachelor degrees, and 7% of all level 5-7 certificates and diplomas at ITPs and PTEs require UE.
Background and Method
This brief describes the extent to which tertiary education providers reference NCEA in the entry requirements for their qualifications. In New Zealand, tertiary education includes provider-based learning delivered by public tertiary education institutions (universities, institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs) and wānanga) and private training establishments (PTEs). Workplace-based learning is organised by industry training organisations. For this report we excluded workplace-based provision.
Different tertiary providers are focussed on different types of education and training. Universities deliver higher level qualifications from undergraduate to advanced postgraduate study. ITPs mainly deliver qualifications at certificate and diploma level, although there is some degree level provision. Wānanga focus on supporting learners into tertiary education, and also deliver qualifications up to bachelors degree and doctorate level. PTEs offer a range of qualifications from vocational training through to specialist degrees. Many PTEs are English language schools catering to international students.
For this analysis, we examined the entry requirements for around 3,300 current qualifications in the SDR Qualifications Register1, which did not require the completion of any previous tertiary qualification. Limiting the analysis in this way allows a more direct assessment of how providers use and value NCEA. We also limited the analysis to students enrolled in 2017 to provide the latest picture of active first time study. In some cases, where entry requirements were inconclusive, we verified entry requirements against provider websites, but in most cases where requirements were specific, these were accepted as specified, and we did not attempt to re-interpret or adjust. Although an entry requirement may have made reference to NCEA, it should be noted that an alternative qualification may also have been referred to (eg, International Baccalaureate). It is also important to note that tertiary providers may, at their discretion, allow students to enrol in a programme of study even if they do not have the appropriate NCEA credits or subjects.
How widely is NCEA used?
NCEA features in the entry requirements for 49% of first-time qualifications2 covering 57% of students enrolled in first-time tertiary qualifications in 2017. The use of NCEA varied widely by provider type and was highest for universities (87% of their qualifications, covering 94% of their students) and ITPs (56% of their qualifications and 51% of their students). It was used less frequently by wānanga and PTEs.
|Provider type||NCEA used|
|% of qualifications||% of students|
How does the use of NCEA vary by qualification level?
The use of NCEA increases with qualification level from 4% of qualifications, covering 3% of students for NZQA Level 1-2 certificates to over 95% of qualifications, covering 98% of students for bachelors degrees.
|Qualification level/type||NCEA used|
|% of qualifications||% of students|
|Level 1-2 certificates||4||3|
|Level 3 certificates||35||29|
|Level 4 certificates||41||22|
|Level 5-7 certificates & diplomas||71||61|
How does the use of NCEA vary within qualification level by different provider type?
The use of NCEA for different levels of tertiary qualifications also varies by provider type. For Level 1-2 certificates, reference to NCEA is low across all provider types (Figure 1). For Level 3 certificates, NCEA use is most common for ITPs, at 46% of qualifications and covering 39% of students. NCEA is used more often by universities and ITPs for Level 4 certificates than other types of tertiary providers (40% and 49% of qualifications, covering 45% and 28% of students, respectively).
The use of NCEA is relatively high for universities, ITPs and PTEs for Level 5 to 7 certificates and diplomas (from 61% to 90% of qualifications, covering 45% to 73% of students).
At bachelors degree level, NCEA is referenced by universities as an entry requirement for 100% of qualifications, covering 100% of students. Similarly for ITPs and PTEs, NCEA is referenced by 99% and 90% of qualifications respectively, covering 99% and 97% of students respectively.
These figures were much lower for wānanga, where only 29% of qualifications, covering 17% of students, referenced NCEA for bachelors degrees, as might be expected due to their aim of providing open access to tertiary education.
Figure 1 Use of NCEA by qualification level and provider type (percentage of qualifications and percentage of students)
University Entrance (UE) is a legal admission requirement under the Education Act 1989 for students aged under 20 years for entry to university bachelors degrees. However, students aged under 20 without UE can enrol in foundation studies at universities to prepare them for bachelors degree courses.
UE is listed as an entry requirement in 79% of first-time university qualifications, covering 92% of students enrolling in first-time university qualifications in 2017. The majority of these qualifications are Level 5-7 certificates or bachelors degrees. For bachelors degrees, UE is listed as an entry requirement for 100% of qualifications, covering 100% of students, reflecting the legal requirement noted above.
UE is also used by non-university providers. Around 50% of all bachelors degrees and 8% of Level 5-7 diplomas and certificates at ITPs reference UE. Around 43% of bachelors degrees at PTEs reference UE. For wānanga, 8% of their degree qualifications reference UE in their entry requirements.
Figure 2 Use of UE by provider type and qualification level (percentage of qualifications and percentage of students)
The data suggests that tertiary providers do differentiate between NCEA levels. Of all first-time qualifications, 10% have NCEA Level 1 as highest level referenced, 17% have NCEA Level 2, and 21% have NCEA Level 3. These qualifications often reference more than one NCEA level.
While entry requirements are higher for higher levels of tertiary study, it is interesting to look at NCEA use for mid-level tertiary qualifications. Around 25% of Level 3 certificates make reference to NCEA Level 1 (often related to literacy or numeracy) and 9% make reference to NCEA Level 2. For first-time Level 4 certificates, 15% make reference to NCEA Level 1 and 23% make reference to NCEA Level 2.
|% of Qualifications||% of Students|
|NCEA 1||NCEA 2||NCEA 3||NCEA 1||NCEA 2||NCEA 3|
Is full or partial NCEA completion important for tertiary providers?
The modular progressive structure of NCEA allows tertiary providers some flexibility in how they reference NCEA in their entry requirements. Tertiary providers often refer to a total number of credits or specific subjects needed and don’t always require completion of a full NCEA level for entry to a qualification.
For all first-time qualifications which reference some level of NCEA achievement in their entry requirements, nearly 60% make reference to the full NCEA qualification. Around 40% of first-time qualifications referencing NCEA Level 1 or 2 reference the full NCEA Level 1 or 2 qualification. The majority (84%) of qualifications referencing NCEA Level 3 require the full NCEA Level 3 qualification (reflecting the fact that UE now requires completion of NCEA Level 3).
|NCEA Level||% of Qualifications1||% of Students1|
|Full NCEA||Partial NCEA||Full NCEA||Partial NCEA|
Of all students enrolled in a qualification in 2017, nearly half (45%) were enrolled in a qualification that references a complete NCEA qualification, 12% were enrolled in a qualification that references only some NCEA credits, and the remaining 43% were enrolled in qualifications that do not reference any NCEA achievement.
Most (five out of eight) universities offer guaranteed entry or preferential entry. If a student meets a university’s rank score they are guaranteed admission to a degree programme. Students that don’t meet the score may still be offered a place. The rank score is based on a student’s best 80 credits in approved subjects at NCEA Level 3 and points are awarded based on the level of achievement (excellence, merit or achieved). The maximum score is 320 points. Guaranteed entry scores are set between 140-150 points.
Some degree programmes will have specific requirements in terms of approved subjects and/or rank scores. This is usually when admission is restrictive, such as medicine, law and engineering. For example, a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) at the University of Auckland requires a rank score of 260 as well as 17 Level 3 credits in Calculus and 16 Level 3 credits in Physics.
Students planning to take specific tertiary programmes need to ensure they have achieved NCEA credits at the appropriate level and in the appropriate subjects for that programme, since NCEA is widely used by tertiary providers when setting entry requirements.
- The SDR Qualifications Register is a database, maintained by the Tertiary Education Commission, which lists information on qualifications offered by Tertiary Education Organisations that are eligible for Student Achievement Component funding and for Student Loans and Allowances.
- For the purposes of this report ‘first time qualifications’ means all formal qualification at tertiary education providers that had students enrolled in them in 2017 and which did not require the completion of a previous post-school qualification.
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