How does New Zealand's education system compare? OECD's Education at a Glance 2016

Publication Details

This report "How does New Zealand's education system compare?" draws on the New Zealand results in OECD's Education at a Glance 2016 and summarises the characteristics and performance of New Zealand's education system in an international context. This year's report relates to education in the 2014 or 2015 academic year and the 2013/2014 financial year.

Author(s): Simon Crossan and David Scott, Ministry of Education

Date Published: September 2016

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New Zealand's Education System at a Glance

Early Childhood Education (ECE) and Schooling

  • New Zealand continues to perform well in early childhood indicators – participation and expenditure are in the top third of OECD countries and child-teacher ratios are amongst the lowest in the OECD.
  • Enrolment rates for 15 to 19 year-olds have grown in recent years, but flattened in 2014. New Zealand remains in the bottom half of OECD countries, a little below the OECD average.
  • Employment rates for youth increased, and youth employment relative to other OECD countries remains high. Compared with other countries, young New Zealanders are more likely to leave school sooner, and work, or go on to further education, or enter further education when they're older.
  • The number of young New Zealanders (15 to 19 years old) not in employment, education or training (NEET) is now back to around pre-recession levels; however, it remains a little higher than the OECD average for this age group. Upper-secondary attainment continues to increase at younger ages but over the whole population remains below the OECD average.
  • New Zealand spends less per student than the OECD average, but, relative to national wealth, public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP is high, and as a percentage of total public expenditure remains one of the highest in the OECD.
  • Teacher statutory salaries start lower, but increase faster than the OECD average and reach a maximum which is lower than the average maximum in other OECD countries. The gap between the salaries of teachers and other similarly-educated workers is smaller in New Zealand than it is in many other OECD countries.
  • New Zealand school teachers are older on average and the proportion of teachers over 50 years old has been increasing. The proportion of teachers younger than 30 is about the same as the OECD average.
  • The average class size for teachers who teach Years 7 to 10 students is around 25 students per class, compared with the OECD average of 23 students.
  • Compared with their OECD counterparts, New Zealand principals in schools teaching Years 7 to 10 students engage well over a range of good practice and decision-making indicators, involving professional development, leadership, collaboration, use of information, and school development.

Tertiary and international education and the post-study outcomes of education

  • The proportion of New Zealand adults with a degree or above (at 30%) is about the OECD average. The proportion with a level 4 qualification or higher (at 48%) is in the top six.
  • Literacy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments skill levels were higher than OECD averages across all education levels, while numeracy skills were closer to the OECD average. New Zealand has a comparatively high proportion of tertiary qualified adults with high levels of literacy, numeracy and problem solving skills. However, the share of tertiary qualified adults with low numeracy skills was higher than the OECD average.
  • While today's adults are significantly more educated than their parents across all OECD countries, New Zealand's educational upward mobility has been faster than the average change seen in the OECD. This has been influenced by New Zealand's higher levels of qualified immigrants.
  • New Zealand has above average levels of participation at core tertiary ages (18 to 20) and relatively very high tertiary participation at older ages (30 and over). Participation in vocational programmes, especially at level 4 is also high, as are levels of part-time study. New Zealand has a high rate of adult participation in non-formal education, with adult New Zealanders spending an average of 71 hours in organised non-formal education per year.
  • Around 14% of tertiary qualified adults in New Zealand had a qualification in engineering, manufacturing or construction, compared with an average of 18% across OECD countries. However, 13% had a qualification in science, mathematics or computing above the OECD average of 11%.
  • Public investment in tertiary education is high, but more of it goes to students as loans and grants than as direct funding to institutions than it does in other countries. Public expenditure on tertiary education as a percentage of GDP is high, and public expenditure on tertiary education as a percentage of total public spending remains one of the highest in the OECD.
  • International students remain a key feature of New Zealand's education system. New Zealand has one of the largest proportions of tertiary students who are international students, especially at doctoral level where 45% of students are international students.
  • Among nine countries with available data, young New Zealand graduates were more likely to be overseas three years after finishing their tertiary qualification. About 20% of bachelors and 30% of master's graduates were living overseas after three years, compared to 3% or 4% in some Nordic countries.
  • Full-time students in New Zealand take a little longer to complete their bachelor's degree, but have the second largest completion rate of 15 OECD countries.
  • Relative to other OECD countries, employment rates in New Zealand remain high, and unemployment remains below the OECD average. Those with lower education levels and lower literacy or numeracy skills have employment rates above the OECD average.
  • Earnings of New Zealanders are at or above the OECD average at every education level. However, the earnings advantage for tertiary educated people, compared with non-tertiary educated people remains smaller than that in many other OECD countries, and returns on investment in higher levels of education remain smaller than those in most other countries. This reflects the comparatively higher earnings of non-tertiary educated adults in New Zealand.
  • Adults across the OECD with higher levels of education also do better over a range of social outcomes. They report better health, lower levels of disability and higher levels of life satisfaction. Adults with higher levels of education are also more likely to volunteer, report having more trust in others, and believe they have a say in government. In terms of these indicators, New Zealand has better social outcomes than many OECD countries. The difference in benefits between least and most educated is much smaller in New Zealand than in other OECD countries.

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