Participation rates in tertiary education

Why This Is Important

Changes in participation and achievement in tertiary education are indicators of the extent to which New Zealanders are developing the skills needed for a modern knowledge economy.  New Zealand's lifelong approach to tertiary learning, relatively open access to enrolment, and easy access to student loans, means that there is a considerable number of students in part-time, course-based study, or who combine work with study.  This compares to other countries which have higher academic entry requirements, more full-time study, and less access to student support.New Zealand's tertiary education sector is a diverse sector.  Its scope ranges from informal non-assessed community courses in schools through to undergraduate degrees and advanced, research-based postgraduate degrees.  It provides pathways for a diverse range of learners, from school leavers to workers, the unemployed to students from overseas, and to those pursuing an interest or hobby or more social interaction.  It has a diverse range of learning objectives and is influenced by a diverse set of people and factors.  This indicator focuses on those who are in formal study at providers who receive government-funding and/or are approved for student loans or allowances.

Indicator Description

Tertiary education participation rates for the population aged 16 years to 64 years.

Total number of domestic students enrolled at any time during the year by qualification level, age group and ethnic group.

Estimated population by qualification level, age group and ethnic group.

Data source:
Ministry of Education and Statistics New Zealand, 2013 Population Census and 2016 Population Estimates.

Interpretation Issues

Factors such as revisions to the population numbers and, in recent years, higher levels of net migration have caused changes in the participation rates.  This has led to increases in the New Zealand population with substantially higher increases for the Asian ethnic group, lowering their participation rate in tertiary education.

In the case of ethnicity and gender, the tertiary education participation rates have been adjusted using the 2013 national age and gender distribution estimates to produce age-standardised participation rates.  These provide fairer comparisons by estimating what the rate would be if the distribution of student ages matched the 2016 national age distribution. 

Age-standardised participation rates eliminate the effect of the different age distributions of the ethnic groups.  This means that the overall rates for each ethnic group are based on the same age structure, that is, the age structure of the total New Zealand population.  This means that if a group has a very high percentage of young people, this is not a distorting factor when we compare them with other groups.  These overall rates, which are based on the same age distribution, can then be compared with each other without the presence of confounding by age.  This is important because study rates tend to be higher for younger people than older people.

The scope of tertiary participation in this indicator relates to students aged 16 to 64 years enrolled, at any time during the year, with a tertiary education provider in a formal programme of study of more than one week's duration (> 0.03 EFTS).

This does not present a full picture of tertiary education participation in New Zealand.

  • Data relates to domestic students only.
  • Data excludes all non-formal learning and on-job industry training.
  • Data excludes those providers which neither received tuition subsidies nor were approved for student loans or allowances.

Students who were enrolled at more than one qualification level have been counted in each level, but only once in the total.  Consequently, the sum of the students in each qualification level may not add to the total number of students.

All rates for different ethnic groups are reported on a total response basis, rather than on a prioritised basis.  Total response basis means that students may be counted in more than one ethnic group.  Students are able to indicate affiliation with up to three ethnic groups.For this indicator Europeans refers to people who affiliate as New Zealand European, Other European or European (not further defined).  This includes, and is not limited to, people who consider themselves Australian (excluding Australian Aborigines), British and Irish, American, Spanish, and Ukrainian.