Affordability of tertiary education to students

Why This Is Important

Affordability is one element of opportunity to learn at tertiary education level, and tertiary education is increasingly the gateway to a higher standard of living.  However, participation in tertiary education remains unevenly distributed.  There is a range of reasons for this, including prior achievement at school and the impact of family resources through the school years.

The direct cost of tertiary education to learners is one factor that can affect participation decisions and is an important feature of all tertiary education systems.  Because of concerns about access, affordability and the need for lifelong learning, the government makes direct financial assistance available to many tertiary students. This includes repayable, subsidised loans for tuition fees, course costs and living expenses and, for low-income students, non-repayable grants for living expenses (student allowances).

Affordability is a complex matter and is not adequately captured by tuition fee levels, particularly for older students, together with the student financial support arrangements mitigating direct costs, part-time study and students combining work and study.

This indicator looks at affordability by examining the costs of enrolling in tertiary education in relation to earnings, as well as the median amount borrowed by students and median loan balance on leaving study for people holding a student loan.


This indicator includes three measures of the affordability of tertiary education:

1.  Average domestic fee as a percentage of average full-time weekly earnings.
Source: Ministry of Education and Statistics New Zealand, Household Economic Survey and New Zealand Income Survey

2.  Median amount borrowed.
Source: Ministry of Education and Ministry of Social Development

3.  Median leaving loan balance
Source: Statistics New Zealand Integrated Data Infrastructure and Ministry of Education, Student Loans Integrated Model.