The satisfaction of international students in New Zealand universities and ITPs

Publication Details

The Ministry of Education and Education New Zealand contracted the International Graduate Insight Group (i-graduate) to survey international students at New Zealand institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs) and universities in 2011.

This report presents the findings from further-in-depth analysis of the 2011 i-graduate survey dataset. It provides the results from the 2011 i-graduate surveys in greater detail than previous reporting, in particular, the results by nationality, and provides information on what influences international student satisfaction.

Author(s): Amapola Generosa, Wilma Molano, Fiona Stokes, Hillmarē Schulze, Business and Economic Research Limited.

Date Published: February 2013

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Executive Summary

Overall, international students studying at universities and ITPs were satisfied with their experiences of living and learning in New Zealand in 2011.

  • 88 percent of university students were very satisfied or satisfied with their experiences.
  • 90 percent of ITP students were very satisfied or satisfied with their experiences.
  • 78 percent of university respondents and 84 percent of ITP respondents would recommend their New Zealand institution to people who are thinking of studying overseas.  

The highest within-nationality proportion1 of satisfied students was from Chile for both university and ITP sectors.  There were also high proportions of satisfied students from Malaysia, Thailand, India and Japan from the university and ITP sectors.  There were high proportions of students who were dissatisfied from Saudi Arabia and South Korea in both sectors. 

Overall, the results of the 2011 survey suggested that education providers in both the university and ITP sectors were able to meet learning and living needs of international students very well. 

Respondent profile

7,029 respondents participated in the 2011 i-graduate survey.  Of this number, 5,886 respondents were students in universities and 1,143 respondents were students in ITPs.  The respondents make up eight percent of the 83,291 international students recorded in Export Education Levy data as studying in New Zealand in the period January to August 20112.   Figure 2.1 shows the proportion of respondents (international students) from 20 different countries in New Zealand.

Figure 2.1 Top 20 countries represented in the 2011 to survey


  • China and India make up 28 percent and 13 percent respectively of the total respondents to the survey.  The other countries with significant numbers of respondents were Malaysia (9 percent), USA (7 percent) and South Korea (4 percent).
  • The smallest numbers of responses were received from students from American Samoa, Australia, Fiji, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
  • The respondents were predominantly undergraduates between 21 and 30 years old.  Similar numbers of male and female students responded.
  • Management and commerce were the main areas of study for i-graduate respondents across both sectors.  Natural and physical sciences, engineering and related technologies and society and culture were also popular areas of study.
  • The majority, 98 percent, of international students who responded to the i-graduate survey in 2011 were studying in New Zealand on student visas. 
  • In the university sector the majority of students applied directly to the institution via online enrolment, while in the ITP sector 43 percent of students applied with the assistance of an education agent.
  • Over half of the students who participated in the survey were not working while studying.

Influences on student satisfaction

The in-depth analysis carried out revealed that learning, living and support service experiences were significant predictors of the overall institution experience of international students in New Zealand.  The strongest influence on international student satisfaction, both in New Zealand universities and ITPs, was their learning experience.  This suggests that learning experience was more likely to influence international students’ experience than living and support service experience.

  • Students in the university sector who were very satisfied with their learning experience were 27 times more likely to report higher overall satisfaction ratings than those who were very dissatisfied.
  • Students in the ITP sector who were very satisfied with their learning experience were 45 times more likely to report higher overall satisfaction ratings than those who were very dissatisfied.

The overall institution experience of students from key countries such as China, India and Malaysia was also analysed. 
  • Learning experience was the strongest influence on the overall university and ITP experience of students from China.
  • Learning and support service experiences were a significant influence on the overall institution satisfaction of university respondents
  • Learning experience had a significant impact on the overall satisfaction ratings of ITP respondents.
  • The learning and support service experiences of Malaysian students significantly influenced their overall institution satisfaction ratings.

While learning experience was the strongest influence on student satisfaction, living and support service experiences should not be ignored.  These areas also influenced the overall student experience.  They are thus potential improvement areas that could be leveraged in order to raise student satisfaction levels.

Expanding on our investigation into the relationship of learning, living and support experience to overall satisfaction, we considered key characteristics that might have some influence over students’ level of satisfaction with their experience.  We investigated English proficiency as another factor influencing the overall institutional experience of international students.  The analysis revealed that English proficiency does not significantly influence international students’ overall institution experience in either the university or ITP sector.  Although students with higher IELTS scores tended to report satisfaction with their overall institution experience, the association was weak.

Arrival experience

Most survey respondents reported satisfaction with their arrival experience.  The areas of most satisfaction were setting up a bank account in New Zealand, formal welcome at the institution, and meeting academic staff.  The areas of dissatisfaction included getting access to email and the internet, meeting students from New Zealand and understanding how their course of study works.

Learning in New Zealand

85 percent and 89 percent of respondents from the ITP and university sectors respectively were satisfied or very satisfied with their overall learning experience.3   The areas where most respondents in both sectors were most satisfied were the quality of academic staff, learning facilities (online and physical) and opportunities to learn with people from other cultures.

Living in New Zealand

International students at New Zealand universities and ITPs rated highly the sense of safety they felt in New Zealand.  The ability to make friends from other countries and to experience the culture of New Zealand were also positive aspects of living in New Zealand.  However, respondents to the 2011 i-graduate survey were particularly dissatisfied with the cost of living and accommodation in New Zealand, the opportunities to earn money while studying, and the ability to receive financial support.

The survey revealed that international students in New Zealand were generally satisfied with how well they integrated with people in New Zealand.  This satisfaction was significantly associated with their ability to build close friendships with people from their own country, from other countries and from New Zealand.

Satisfaction with support services

Overall, international students were satisfied with the support services provided at the institution where they were studying.  Food and accommodation were the key areas of concern in terms of support services required by international students at New Zealand universities.  The university’s account/ finance department and careers advisory service were also rated poorly.  International students at ITPs were dissatisfied with the support provided by the accommodation office and halls of residence, and campus eating places.

Expectations of employment and careers support

The most common support that university students expected was advice and guidance around career paths, career options and training.  International students at ITPs expected more support to enable them to meet prospective employers and expected the opportunity to network with fellow alumni.

Students’ future plans

A significant proportion of the respondents were undecided about what they were going to do after completing their studies at their universities or ITPs.  Those who were undecided were mostly from China, India, Malaysia or United States.  22 percent of university respondents were still undecided on their future plans, whilst 31 percent of international students at ITPs were undecided about their future plans at that point in the year. 


  1. A proportion is a snapshot of the population of interest, and consists of a numerator of events (e.g. respondents who were satisfied) and a denominator representing the population of which the events occur (e.g. total number of respondents). 
  2. The 2011 university respondents made up 33 percent of the 18, 223 international students in universities while respondents from ITPs made up three percent of the 37,117 international students in ITPs.  The number of international  fee-paying students by sector for period 1 January to 31 August (2005 to 2011) is available at: Export Education Levy Jan-Aug 2003-2011
  3. Responses to satisfaction questions (e.g. overall institution, learning, and living and support service) were based on weighted samples.

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