Fees-free Tertiary Education
Statistics relating to fees-free tertiary education, including demographic data, student loan borrowing, course completions and study load.
2018 and 2019 DataUpdated: Dec-2020
This page presents statistics relating to the first two years of fees-free tertiary education, including demographic data, course completions, study load and student loan borrowing.
Since 1 January 2018, fees-free tertiary education and training has been available to students with little or no prior tertiary study. Alongside this, increases to student support (both student allowances and loan entitlements) were implemented.
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.
- In 2019 there were approximately 58,280 unique fees-free students and trainees, including 10,730 carry-over learners from 2018.
- Of the approximately 48,560 fees-free students in provider-based study in 2019, the majority (53%) were enrolled at universities, 68% were of European ethnicity, 62% were aged 18-19 years and 58% were women.
- Of the approximately 9,720 fees-free industry training learners in 2019, 98% were in apprenticeships and only 2% were trainees, 75% were of European ethnicity, 38% were aged 18-19 years and 92% were men.
- Students that access fees-free study tend to have higher study loads and course completion rates compared to non-fees free students. However, study loads and course completion rates at total student level have not changed since the introduction of fees-free. This indicates that the differences in demographic factors between the two groups, rather than fees-free status, drive the differences in study load and course completion rates.
- Across 2018 and 2019, a total of 94,655 students and trainees have accessed fees-free study, including 84,070 in provider-based study and 10,585 industry trainees.
Who participated in fees-free study in 2019?
In 2019, there were approximately 58,280 unique fees-free students and trainees. This included 9,720 trainees in industry training benefiting from fees-free study. Tables 1 and 2 compare key breakdowns for 2019 fees-free and non-fees-free learners in provider-based tertiary education and industry training programmes respectively. Figure 1, at the end of this section, is an interactive graph that allows users to select from these breakdowns to view either head counts of learners or equivalent fulltime students (EFTS) in fees-free study during 2018 and 2019. Further tabular breakdowns are contained in the excel file under the "Downloads" section.
New fees-free learners
The total number of new fees-free learners in 2019 was 47,550, compared with 47,105 in 2018. This was made up of 41,730 in provider-based study and 5,820 in industry training.
The number of new fees-free students in provider-based study fell 1% (610 students) in 2019. In contrast, the number of new fees-free learners in industry training increased by 1,055 learners, or 22%, between 2018 and 2019.
For both provider-based study and industry training the distribution of new fees-free learners across different demographic characteristics was similar in 2019 to 2018.
The proportion of new fees-free industry training learners undertaking apprenticeships was stable between 2018 and 2019 at 98%. For provider-based study there was an increase in the percentage doing level 5 to 7 non-degree study (by 2 percentage points) coupled with a decrease in those doing bachelors or graduate study at level 7 (also by 2 percentage points). The proportion of new fees-free students doing post-graduate study was stable across the two years.
Provider-based fees-free study
Approximately 42,225 equivalent full-time students (EFTS) were fees-free in 2019, accounting for around 19% of total EFTS at SAC (Student Achievement Component) Level 3 and above.
Table 1 summarises the key characteristics of provider-based students by fees-free status. Of the 48,560 fees-free students enrolled in provider-based formal1 study, 25,800 (53%) were enrolled at universities, 14,965 (31%) at institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs), and 8,065 at private training establishments (PTEs, 17%). Less than 1% of fees-free students were enrolled at wānanga. By comparison, the distribution of non-fees-free students by sub-sector was; universities 47%, ITPs 32%, PTEs 13% and wānanga 11%. 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 more even split than for non-fees-free with 62% female. Most fees-free students were aged 18-19 years (30,255 learners, 62%), 16,210 (33%) were aged 20 years and over and only 2,020 (4%) were aged under 18 years. By comparison, the distribution of non-fees-free students by age group was; 93% over 20 years, 5% aged 18-19 years and 1% aged under 18 years.
The majority of provider-based fees-free students were European (33,145 students, 68%), 8,675 (18%) were Māori, 5,825 (12%) were Pacific Peoples and 6,950 (14%) were Asian. By comparison, the distribution of non-fees-free students by ethnicity was; Europeans (62%), Māori (21%), Pacific Peoples (9%) and Asian (16%). 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 43% of non-fees free students who were enrolled in degree-level study and 44% in non-degree-level study.
|Under 18 years||1,965||60||2,020||4||3,405||1|
|40 years & over||1,870||595||2,465||5||60,145||24|
Level / Type
|Non-degree study (levels 3-7)||18,975||3,195||22,175||46||110,600||44|
|Post-graduate (levels 8-10)||2,590||170||2,760||6||41,855||17|
|Private Training Establishments||7,045||1,015||8,065||17||32,105||13|
Fees-free industry training learners
In 2019, 9,720 industry training learners had their programme and assessment fees paid through the Fees Free Policy. Almost all (98%) were in apprenticeship training programmes. The remaining learners (2%) were enrolled in traineeship programmes (see Table 2).
Industry training fees-free learners were distributed across a wide age range with 45% aged under 20 years, 48% were between 20 and 39 years and the remaining 6% were aged 40 years or over. On average, industry training fees-free learners were younger than non-fees-free learners in equivalent programmes, over half of whom were aged over 25 years (63%).
The majority (92%) of industry training fees-free learners in 2019 were male. Around 680 (7%) 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 leaners (66%). 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 17% of non-fees-free learners. Similarly, Pacific Peoples made up 6% of fees-free learners, and 7% of non-fees-free learners in equivalent programmes.
Just over half (54%) of fees-free learners were in building related programmes, compared to 36% of non-fees-free learners in equivalent programmes. A further 37% of fees-free learners were in engineering related programmes, similar to the 36% of non-fees-free learners in equivalent programmes.
Industry training learners have a 24-month entitlement to fees-free leading to a relatively higher number of continuing fees-free learners when compared with provider-based students.
|Under 18 years||660||40||705||7||110||0|
|40 years & over||375||205||580||6||6,890||16|
Level / Type
Figure 1: Fees-free learners 2018-2019, interactive graph
Were study loads influenced by fees-free study?
Table 3 shows the average study load of provider-based students from 2016 to 2019 with a split for fees-free status for 2018 and 2019. It is limited to first time students aged 18 to 19 years to match the age concentration 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 differences in study load.
|Average study load (EFTS)||Fees-free||0.94||0.93|
Did more students complete their courses in 2019?
Table 4 contains course completion rates for provider-based students from 2016 to 2019 with a split for fees-free status for 2018 and 2019. As for average study load this table focuses on 18 and 19-year-old first time students to match the age concentration for fees-free students. Completion rates for 2019 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 affects completion rates. For example, the eligibility criteria for fees-free means that the 18 and 19-year-olds not eligible for fees-free will likely be enrolled in Youth Guarantee fees-free Level 3 study. They are also more likely to have left school prior to 18 years, with lower school qualifications.
|Course completion rate||Fees-free||84%||84%|
It is too soon to analyse qualification completion rates. It may be possible to analyse rates for shorter qualifications next year.
An explanation of the Ministry’s method for calculating completion rates is available here.
Participation rates in tertiary education
The fees-free participation rate in 2019 was consistent with 2018 at 1.1%. Rates by ethnic group were consistent across the two years, except for a slight decrease for European from 1.2% in 2018 to 1.1% in 2019.
For all provider-based students (non-fees-free and fees-free), the tertiary participation rate was 8% in 2019, down from 9% in 2018. This continues a downward trend from 13% in 2009. For Māori and Pacific Peoples, 2019 tertiary participation rates were consistent with 2018 at 11% and 9% respectively.
Student loan borrowing
The total dollar amount borrowed for courses fees in 2019 was up 2.5% over 2018 (an increase of $21m, which partly reflects annual fee increases) but still lower than prior to the introduction of the Fees Free Policy. With the introduction of 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 reductions in 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 will be published in late 2020 or early 2021 and will be 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.