Measuring up: How does New Zealand’s tertiary education system compare? OECD's Education at a Glance 2008

Publication Details

This series "How does New Zealand's education system compare?" draws on the New Zealand results in OECD's Education at a Glance 2006 and summarises the characteristics and performance of New Zealand's education system in an international context. This year's report mostly relates to education in 2006.

Author(s): Roger Smyth and Warren Smart, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: September 2008

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

Section 1: Introduction

Highlights of this year's indicators

Educational attainment of the adult population

The proportion of the New Zealand population who hold a tertiary qualification is above the OECD mean, above Australia, above the UK and equal to the US but lower than Canada.

Completion rates in tertiary education

New Zealand's tertiary education qualification completion rates are below the OECD average.  But this is influenced by the fact that we have a relatively high proportion of part-time students.  The OECD reports that New Zealand is above the mean for the countries that can report completion rates for full-time degree students.

Employment rates

Because New Zealand has low unemployment, employment rates for holders of tertiary qualifications are high.  But as much of the recent growth in employment in New Zealand has been among those with low or no qualifications, there is a lower difference in this country than in other OECD countries in the employment rates of those with and without qualifications.

Earning premiums

Because the strong labour market has created strong employment and earnings for those with low or no qualifications, the difference in earnings between those without qualifications and those who do hold qualifications is lower in New Zealand than in other countries.

Government spending on tertiary education

The New Zealand government's spending on tertiary education – at diploma and degree level – was 1.5 percent of gross domestic product in 2005. This was sixth in the OECD and above the OECD average of 1.3 percent.

Resourcing for tertiary education providers

The funding available to tertiary education providers in New Zealand – from government funding plus fees and including the fees from international students – is also 1.5 percent of gross domestic product, equal to the OECD average.

Expenditure per student

While expenditure per student is lower in New Zealand than the OECD average, that measure doesn't take account of the resources available for tertiary education.  The OECD records the ratio of the expenditure per student to gross domestic product per capita, in order to relate investment in tertiary education to national wealth.  On this measure, New Zealand is above the OECD mean and above Japan and Ireland, but below the US, the UK and Australia.

The split in resourcing between government and students

Based on total resourcing, the government provides 60 percent of the costs of tertiary education providers.  But this calculation includes the revenue from international students.  Taking international students out of the mix, the government pays around 70 percent of the cost of educating domestic students in universities.  However, part of the student contribution is paid direct to the providers by way of subsidised student loans. Allowing for this, the average contribution made by domestic students to their tertiary education is around 21 percent.

Spending on supporting students

In 2005, subsidies to students accounted for 42 percent of government spending on tertiary education in New Zealand, the second highest of all OECD countries and above the OECD average of 18 percent.  But if you take account of the fact that borrowing for fees through the loan scheme are paid direct to providers, the proportion actually spent supporting students falls to 23 percent.


At every age above 17 years, the enrolment rate in tertiary education in New Zealand is above the OECD average and ahead of the UK but slightly behind Australia.


Domestic degree students in New Zealand pay lower fees than those in countries like Australia, Japan and the US.  Eight OECD countries charge no fees for degree students.

International students

New Zealand was second only to Australia in 2006 in the percentage of tertiary students who are international students.  Comparing 2006 with 2000, New Zealand had the highest growth rate of any country in the OECD on this measure.