Summary: Tertiary Education Strategy Monitoring 2009

Publication Details

This is the first of a set of three reports looking at the implementation of the 2007-2012 Tertiary Education Strategy. This report provides a brief overview of the tertiary education sector as the strategy was being implemented and highlights key issues for achieving the strategy.

Author(s): Tertiary Sector Performance Analysis and Reporting, Ministry of Education

Date Published: July 2009

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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 5: Success for all New Zealanders through lifelong learning

Ensuring maximum education opportunities for all New Zealanders

More of the population hold tertiary qualifications. In 2008, 28 percent of the population aged 25 to 39 held a bachelors degree or higher. This proportion is above the OECD mean, and similar to Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Figure 2: Highest educational qualification of the population aged 25 to 39 years

Image of Figure 2: Highest educational qualification of the population aged 25 to 39 years.

  1. Source: Statistics New Zealand, Household Labour Force Survey, June quarters.

However, the distribution of qualifications remains uneven across population groups.

Overall, students from lower socio-economic backgrounds have been less likely to participate in tertiary education, particularly at bachelors level and above. Recent research indicates that students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are less likely to achieve well at school. For students who go on to tertiary study, school achievement becomes the main predictor of success, rather than family background. Family aspirations also have an influence on whether students choose to go on to bachelors- level study from school. This in turn drives motivation to achieve well at school.

Māori have had relatively low participation in level 4 qualifications and higher. Māori school leavers have been less likely than others to enter higher levels of tertiary study. Māori students have been less likely to continue in tertiary study after their first year, reducing the proportion completing qualifications.

Pasifika have had relatively low participation at level 4 and above. Pasifika students have been less likely than European and Asian students to enter higher levels of tertiary study. While Pasifika students continue in study at similar rates to others, they have been less likely to pass all of their courses and to complete a qualification.

People with disabilities have been less likely to participate in tertiary education. Those with disabilities related to hearing, learning and mental-health have been least likely to participate at bachelors level. People with disabilities who do participate in tertiary education have generally done as well as other students, particularly if they were able to access support services. Access to support services has varied across levels of study, with services being more available to students at bachelors level than students at non-degree levels.

Strong foundation skills

In 2006, just over half of the New Zealand adult population had sufficient literacy and numeracy to participate fully in a knowledge society. While this situation is similar in other developed countries, and likely to improve as a more educated generation matures, there are still significant concerns about:

  • the level of skills of people in the current workforce
  • the smaller proportion of the population with higher levels of numeracy and problem-solving, compared to literacy
  • lower overall literacy and numeracy of Pasifika and Māori populations, and of young people entering the workforce
  • English-based literacy skills of people for whom English is a second language.

Increasing literacy, language and numeracy levels for the workforce

In 2006, 40 percent of employed people had literacy below the level required to participate fully in a knowledge society, 46 percent had low numeracy and 64 percent had low levels of problem-solving skills.

Labourers and machine workers were most likely to have low literacy. However, the largest numbers of employees with low literacy were in service and sales jobs.

The agriculture and fisheries, manufacturing and construction, trade, and health and social services industries had higher proportions of people with low literacy working in them. The largest numbers of people with low literacy were in the trade industries and manufacturing.

Successful transitions from schooling: ensuring the 'baby blip' generation achieves its potential

During the period from around 2007 to 2011 there will be a larger number of young people aged 15 to 19. They are the so-called 'baby blip' generation. These young people will be a significant part of the future workforce.

Figure 3: National population projections
Image of Figure 3: National population projections.
  1. Source: Statistics New Zealand, National Population Projections, 2006 base, series 6.

The proportion of New Zealanders under 21 in tertiary study has been higher than the OECD average. However, New Zealand has had a higher proportion of students who leave school from age 16 onwards and do not go on to tertiary study.

Increased educational success for young New Zealanders – more achieving qualifications at level four and above by age 25

Around 40 percent of New Zealanders achieve a level 4 or higher qualification by age 25 through provider and work-based tertiary education. While the rates of achievement have been improving, rates for Māori and Pasifika are significantly lower than for other ethnic groups. Rates are also lower for men overall.

A quarter of New Zealanders achieve a bachelors degree or higher by age 25. This rate has been stable in recent years. Attainment rates are significantly lower for Māori and Pasifika and for men.

Figure 4: School and tertiary participation rates in 2006
Image of Figure 4: School and tertiary participation rates in 2006.
  1. Source: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Education at a Glance, 2008.

This situation has been due partly to a strong youth labour market, which has enabled more young people to go straight to employment. It also reflects lower expectations in New Zealand for all young people to 'complete' secondary school and undertake some tertiary study.

As stated above, Māori and Pasifika students have been less likely to go on to tertiary, particularly at bachelors-level and above.

Figure 5: Proportion of 2005 school leavers enrolling in tertiary education by ethnic group and qualification level
Image of Figure 5: Proportion of 2005 school leavers enrolling in tertiary education by ethnic group and qualification level.

Building relevant skills and competencies for productivity and innovation

Demand for advanced skills and knowledge has been increasing in the workplace in order to improve innovation and productivity, as a result of the greater use of technology and in response to greater demands on health and social services as the population ages. The current economic downturn will reduce short-term demand in areas such as construction and manufacturing. However, there will continue to be demand for increased skills and knowledge in the long term.

Areas where there has clearly been an unmet need for increased graduates include engineering, building and some areas of health. 

Increased achievement of advanced trade, technical and professional qualifications to meet regional and national industry needs

The proportion of tertiary-qualified trades workers increased from 60 in 1991 to 70 percent in 2005. However, by 2008, the proportion had dropped back to 60 percent.

The proportion of professionals with bachelors degrees or higher has been steadily growing, as has the proportion of technicians and associate professionals.

The relative premiums paid for trades workers, technicians and associate professionals, and professionals with advanced qualifications have decreased in recent years as wages have increased for workers with lower levels of qualifications.

Areas where there has clearly been an unmet need for increased graduates include engineering, building and some areas of health. Other areas where there has been evidence of shortages include early childhood, secondary and Māori-medium teaching and accounting. In most areas, improving the relevance of the qualifications is as or more important than increasing the number of graduates.

Industry training has continued to provide broad based access to learning for those in employment, with around a third of completing trainees attaining national certificates within five years of starting their training.

There has been an increase in enrolments and completions at postgraduate level – mostly in postgraduate certificates and diplomas and in doctoral degrees. Retention rates have been increasing. The highest earnings premiums are paid for people with postgraduate qualifications in management and commerce, information technology and engineering.

Building skills and competencies for social and cultural development

Tertiary education also contributes to New Zealand's social and cultural development. Around 16 percent of provider-based provision has been in the areas of creative arts, culture and languages. Three-quarters of students taking courses in these areas were enrolled in qualifications in society and culture or creative arts. People with society and culture or creative arts qualifications work across a wide range of occupations and industries.

Implementing the strategy …

The largest proportion of commitments made by tertiary education organisations in their 2008 to 2010 investment plans relates to this area of the contribution. The main focus is on increasing the participation of underrepresented groups, especially Māori learners, as well as improving retention and course completion.

Polytechnics have focused on developing capability in literacy, language and numeracy delivery, improving outcomes for Māori and Pasifika learners and increasing progression from entry-level to higher-level learning. They have also committed to increasing higher-level provision in engineering, technology, health science and advanced trades qualifications, while decreasing provision in other areas.

Universities have given priority to increasing postgraduate enrolments and degree completions, as well as continuing to focus on enrolments by under 25-year olds. A focus on Māori learner success has been included in all university plans. Universities are planning for more provision in law, medicine, teaching, architecture, engineering and other professions and less in general education and arts and humanities.

The three wānanga each have different sets of objectives in this area. Collectively, they anticipate modest improvements in participation and completion rates for students under 25 years at level 4 and above, as well as improvements for students aged 25 years and over.

The main focus of industry training organisations is on continuing to meet industry needs. They are less certain about their ability to influence student outcomes and to improve the participation of underrepresented groups, as this relies on employers' cooperation. There is significant attention in investment plans to literacy, language and numeracy improvements.

Private training establishments and other tertiary education providers have a well-focussed set of commitments which anticipate moderate improvements in student achievement. Their focus is on increasing provision at higher levels and increasing the participation and achievement of younger learners.