Fees Free tertiary education
Statistics relating to tertiary education funded through the Fees Free policy, including demographic data, student loan borrowing, course completions and study load.
2018 to 2020 Data Updated: Dec-2021
This page presents statistics relating to the first three years of tertiary education funded through the Fees Free policy, including demographic data, course completions, study load and student loan borrowing. The study is at Student Achievement Component (SAC) Level 3 and above
Since 1 January 2018, fees-free tertiary education and training has been available to students with little or no prior tertiary study.
It is recognised that impacts of the Fees Free policy won’t all happen immediately. Some intended benefits might take several years to be seen, as changes in the cost of tertiary education affect learners’ plans and any extra participation flows through to increased attainment and movements from education to the labour market. The Fees Free policy will continue to be monitored against the framework and further information will be published on Education Counts as data becomes available
Statistics for previous years’ fees-free study have been updated. Changes to the data occur because of corrections and adjustments to students’ fees-free entitlements and payments
- Patterns of engagement with fees-free study in 2020 have remained consistent with 2018 and 2019, across age, gender, ethnicity, type and level of study, study load and course completion. However, the overall number of new fees-free students and trainees decreased by 13%, largely due to the introduction of the Targeted Training and Apprenticeship Fund (TTAF).
- In 2020 there were approximately 57,275 fees-free students or trainees, including 14,225 who started fees-free study in 2018 or 2019. Learners in government-funded provider-based study made up 87% of these fees-free students and trainees, with the remaining 13% in industry training.
- The number of new fees-free students and trainees decreased in 2020 by 7% (3,120 learners) in provider-based study and by 65% (3,690 learners) in industry training. These falls are related to the introduction on 1 July 2020 of the TTAF initiative that funded all apprentices and a range of training programmes at sub-degree level. In addition, over 9,500 students who did participate in fees-free study in 2020, also transitioned to study under TTAF once that initiative was introduced. These learners shifting to TTAF made up 5% of fees-free students in provider-based study, and 97% of fees-free learners in industry training.
- The biggest demographic difference between fees-free and non-fees-free students in 2020 was by age-group: in provider-based settings 60% of fees-free students were aged 18 to 19 years of age compared to 5% of non-fees-free students in SAC Level 3 and higher; in industry training 79% of fees-free learners were aged under 25 years, compared with 39% of non-fees-free learners. Fees-free students or trainees in both settings were also a little more likely to be male or European than non-fees-free students or trainees.
- Study loads and course completion rates for first-time 18 to 19-year-old fees-free students tend to be similar to the levels seen for similar students prior to the introduction of Fees Free.
Who participated in Fees Free study in 2020?
IIn 2020, there were approximately 57,275 unique fees-free students and trainees. This included 7,495 trainees in industry training benefiting from fees-free study. Approximately 41,370 equivalent full-time students (EFTS) were fees-free in 2020, accounting for around 17% of total EFTS at SAC Level 3 and above.
Tables 1 and 2 show key breakdowns for 2020 fees-free and non-fees-free learners in provider-based tertiary education and industry training programmes respectively. More data is contained in the excel file under the Downloads section.
New fees-free learners
The total number of new fees-free learners in 2020 was 43,050, compared with 47,820 in 2018 and 49,735 in 2019. In 2020 this was made up of 41,055 in provider-based study and 1,995 in industry training.
The number of new fees-free students decreased by 13% overall between 2019 and 2020. In provider-based study it fell 7% (3,120 students). The decrease between 2019 and 2020 was much bigger in industry training with 3,690 fewer new fees-free learners, a fall of 65%. These falls are related to the introduction of the TTAF initiative from 1 July 2020, with training funded for all apprentices and a range of training programmes at sub-degree level, regardless of their prior study. From 1 July 2020, almost all apprenticeship or trainee programmes eligible for Fees Free were funded from TTAF.
For provider-based study, the proportion of new students in broad level groupings showed no change between 2019 and 2020. For both provider-based study and industry training the distribution of new fees-free learners across different demographic characteristics was similar in 2020 to both 2018 and 2019.
Provider-based Fees Free study
Table 1 summarises the key characteristics of provider-based students by fees-free status. Of the 49,780 fees-free students enrolled in provider-based formal1 study, 26,040 (52%) were enrolled at universities, 15,905 (32%) at Te Pūkenga subsidiaries, and 7,780 at private training establishments (PTEs, 16%). Just 1% of fees-free students were enrolled at wānanga. By comparison, the distribution of non-fees-free students by sub-sector was: universities 47%, Te Pūkenga subsidiaries 33%, PTEs 14% and wānanga 9%. Lower fees-free enrolments at wānanga may be due to learners being older on average and more likely to have completed prior tertiary study that makes them ineligible for fees-free study. Also, many sub-degree programmes at wānanga did not attract fees prior to the introduction of the fees-free policy.
More than half of provider-based fees-free students were female (58%), a slightly lower proportion than for non-fees-free with 62% female. Most fees-free students were aged 18 to 19 years (30,045 learners, 60%), 17,490 (35%) were aged 20 years and over and only 2,060 (4%) were aged under 18 years. By comparison, the distribution of non-fees-free students by age group was: 94% over 20 years, 5% aged 18 to 19 years and 1% aged under 18 years.
The majority of provider-based fees-free students were European (34,080 students, 68%), 9,135 (18%) were Māori, 5,990 (12%) were Pacific peoples and 6,770 (14%) were Asian. By comparison, the distribution of non-fees-free students by ethnicity was European (62%), Māori (20%), Pacific peoples (9%) and Asian (17%). It is important to note that differences in fees-free and non-fees-free proportions by ethnicity are largely driven by differences in age profiles (for example, a higher proportion of Māori learners in tertiary education are older and less likely to be eligible for fees-free due to prior study).
Most provider-based fees-free students were enrolled in degree-level study (51%) and 46% were enrolled in non-degree-level (Levels 3-7). This compares with 42% of non-fees free students who were enrolled in degree-level study and 44% in non-degree-level study.
|Age group||Under 18 years||1,945||120||2,060||4||3,100||1|
|40 years & over||1,585||700||2,280||5||60,320||24|
|Qualification level/type||Non-degree study (levels 3-7)||18,220||4,660||22,880||46||112,755||44|
|Post-graduate (levels 8-10)||2,565||165||2,730||5||43,170||17|
|Private training establishments||6,370||1,410||7,780||16||34,585||14|
Fees Free industry training learners
In 2020, 7,495 industry training learners had their programme and assessment fees paid through the Fees Free policy. Almost all (97%) were in apprenticeship training programmes. The remaining learners (1%) were enrolled in traineeship programmes, (with 2% unknown - see Table 2).
Industry training fees-free learners were distributed across a wide age range with 36% aged under 20 years, 43% between 20 and 24 years and the remaining 19% aged 25 years or over. By contrast, over half (61%) of non-fees-free learners in equivalent programmes were aged 25 years or over.
The majority (92%) of industry training fees-free learners in 2020 were male. Around 485 (6%) fees-free learners were women, compared to 15% of non-fees-free learners in equivalent programmes.
A high proportion of fees-free learners were European (75%), higher than the proportion of non-fees-free European learners (65%). The opposite pattern was seen for Asian leaners with lower proportions accessing fees-free industry training (3%) compared to non-fees-free learners in equivalent programmes (9%). Learners of Māori ethnicity made up 16% of fees-free learners compared with 18% of non-fees-free learners. Similarly, Pacific peoples made up 5% of fees-free learners, and 8% of non-fees-free learners in equivalent programmes.
Industry training learners have a 24-month entitlement to fees-free study, leading to a relatively higher number of continuing fees-free learners when compared with provider-based students.
|Age group||Under 18 years||225||55||280||4||845||2|
|40 years & over||95||240||335||4||8,095||15|
|Qualification level/type||Level 3||30||50||80||1||505||1|
Figure 1: Fees-free learners 2018-2020, interactive graph
Were study loads influenced by Fees Free study?
Table 3 shows the average study load of provider-based students from 2016 to 2020 with a split for fees-free status for 2018 to 2020. It is limited to first time students aged 18 to 19 years to match the age concentration of the majority of fees-free students. While students that accessed fees-free had a higher study load than those that did not, the total average study load did not increase over what it was in the years prior to the introduction of the Fees Free policy. The same pattern was observed by study level, ethnicity, age and other factors. This indicates that other factors related to fees-free eligibility, rather than being fees-free itself, likely lead to the differences in study load.
Average study load
Did more students complete their courses in 2020?
Table 4 contains course completion rates for provider-based students from 2016 to 2020 with a split for fees-free status for 2018 to 2020. As for average study load, this table focuses on 18 to 19-year-old first time students to match the age concentration of the majority of fees-free students. Completion rates for 2020 fees-free students are higher than rates for non-fees-free students but are consistent with the rates for all students from previous years. This suggests that it is not Fees Free itself, but other factors related to fees-free eligibility, that affect completion rates.
Course completion rate
It is too soon to analyse qualification completion rates. Initial indications are that there is essentially no change to qualification completion rates for fees-free students compared to rates for 18 to 19-year-old students prior to the introduction of the policy.
An explanation of the Ministry’s method for calculating completion rates is available here.
Participation rates in tertiary education
In 2020, 11.1% of the total New Zealand population aged 15 years and over was enrolled in tertiary education, a slight decrease from 11.3% in 2019. Participation rates have been falling since 2009, in line with improving economic conditions in New Zealand. The fees-free participation rate also decreased slightly from 1.5% in 2019 to 1.4% in 2020, although this is still higher than the inaugural fees-free participation rate of 1.2% in 2018.
There were decreases in the fees-free participation rate across all ethnic groups, particularly for Māori and Pacific learners where the rate declined by 0.3 percentage points from 2019 to 2020. However, participation rates in TTAF study2 in 2020 were 3.0% for Māori, 2.8% for Pacific Peoples and 2.2% overall.
The TTAF policy was started half way through 2020, and 9,570 fees-free students changed to be recipients of TTAF study in 2020. These students made up 5% of fees-free learners in provider-based study, and 97% of fees-free learners in industry training. TTAF is targeted at non-degree study at levels three to seven, and has programme-based eligibility rather than learner-based settings. As a result there were many more students (over 100,000) in TTAF study in 2020.
Student loan borrowing
The total dollar amount borrowed for courses fees in 2020 was up 0.5% over 2019 (an increase of $4.5m, which partly reflects annual fee increases) but still lower than prior to the introduction of the Fees Free policy. With the introduction of the Fees Free policy in 2018, student loan borrowing for fees reduced by $194.2 million between 2017 and 2018. The number of students borrowing for fees reduced over the same period by 31,600 (20%). The reduction in fees borrowing can primarily be attributed to the introduction of the Fees Free policy, but will also have been impacted by falling enrolments.
Further data on student support (loans and allowances) can be found on the Ministry of Social Development’s StudyLink statistics page here. The Student Loan Scheme Annual Report for 2020 is available here .
- Formal study refers to learning that is organised, intentional, institutionalised (but not just provider-based) and nationally recognised. For this report, only provider-based formal study of greater than 0.03 EFTS (more than one week’s full-time duration) is counted.
- Based on data supplied by the Tertiary Education Commission as at June 2021.