Tertiary education enrolments by international students

What We Have Found

International students made up 15 percent of all students in formal tertiary education study in New Zealand in 2016.  Formal study is the study of qualifications registered on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework.  Students who study at private training establishments that do not receive government funding are excluded here.

Date Updated: October 2017

Indicator Description

This indicator looks at international tertiary education students as a proportion of total tertiary education students and how many international students are enrolled in formal tertiary education each year.

Why This Is Important

Providing education for international students has benefits for individuals, institutions and wider society.  This means that the New Zealand economy stands to benefit substantially from planned and managed growth of the export education sector.  It will help build the international relationships, skills and knowledge that are vital to New Zealand's future viability in the international economy.

Both domestic and international students benefit from exposure to other cultures and perspectives, enabling them to develop skills to succeed in cross-cultural contexts.  Export education initiatives can mean access to courses of study that might not otherwise be available.  They can also offer opportunities to develop personal and institutional relationships of long-term value.

Institutions can use the income generated from export education activities to invest in their ongoing development, for example, by improving facilities and increasing staffing.  Teaching and learning programmes can be enhanced by the participation of international students.  Staff benefit from international linkages, and from achieving greater competence in cross-cultural teaching.

Although international students are usually required to pay the full cost of their tuition, Australian citizens living in New Zealand are treated as domestic students and pay domestic fees.  International students studying towards a recognised doctoral qualification in New Zealand are funded in the same way as domestic doctoral students, and attract student achievement-component funding.

How We Are Going

International students made up 15 percent of all tertiary education students in formal study in 2016 and in 2015.  This compared to 13 percent in 2014.  Formal study referred to here is the study of qualifications on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework at public tertiary education institutions and private training establishments who receive some government funding or were approved for student loans or allowances.

Following an upward trend since 2009, international student numbers increased by 1.9 percent from 2015 to 2016 to 62,600.  The increase from 2015 to 2016 was larger in terms of equivalent full-time student units, up by 2.9 percent, to 43,900.

International student numbers increased from 2015 to 2016 by:

  • 1.3 percent for bachelors degrees and level 5 to 7 diplomas and certificates
  • 14 percent for graduate diplomas and certificates, and
  • 9.5 percent for postgraduate qualifications.

Enrolments by international students in level 1 to 4 certificates decreased from 2015 to 2016, down by 12 percent.

In 2016, 83 percent of international students were from Asia. This included 21,400 students from China and 16,200 from India.

Figure 1: International students as a proportion of total tertiary education students and total number of international students, 1996-2016

Figure 1: International students as a proportion of total tertiary education students and total number of international students, 1996-2016.


  • Ministry of Education (2017). Profile & Trends 2016: Tertiary Education Outcomes and Qualification Completions, p 7 and p 10.
  • Park, Z (2017) Moving places: Destinations and earnings of international graduates, Wellington: Ministry of Education.

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