Participation rates in tertiary education

What We Have Found

The participation rate of New Zealanders aged 16 to 64 years in provider-based tertiary education decreased slightly from 2015 to 2016 for both level 1 to 7 diplomas and certificates, and bachelors or higher qualifications.The participation rate in bachelors or higher qualifications has varied within a narrow range since the early 2000s – close to 6 percent of the population aged 16 to 64 years.  In contrast, the participation rate for level 1 to 7 diplomas and certificates has been falling since 2005, reflecting the emphasis government has been placing on getting more people into higher-level, higher value qualifications.

Date Updated: September 2017

Indicator Description

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

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.

How We Are Going

The participation rate of New Zealanders aged 16 to 64 years in provider-based tertiary education decreased slightly in 2016.  In 2016 and 2015, close to 12 percent of the population aged 16 to 64 years participated in tertiary education, compared to 14 percent in 2011.  The rate for level 1 to 7 diplomas and certificates decreased, from 6.3 percent in 2015 to 6.0 percent in 2016, and for degree and higher qualifications it decreased slightly, from 6.0 percent in 2015 to 5.9 percent in 2016.

Following reviews investigating the quality, relevance and value for money of level 1 to 7 diplomas and certificates in the mid-2000s, the government has placed greater emphasis on getting more people into higher-level, higher-value qualifications.  This led to the significant decrease seen in lower-level enrolments since 2006. Participation in degree and higher-level qualifications has remained relatively stable over the same period.
Figure 1: Tertiary education participation rates of 16 to 64 year-olds by broad qualification level

Ethnic Group

From 2006 to 2016, the age-standardised participation rates in tertiary education by 16 to 64 year-olds have decreased overall for each ethnic group.  Reviews into the quality, relevance and cost-effectiveness of non-degree qualifications carried out in the mid-2000s have led to lower levels of participation and the reductions are evident across the main ethnic groups.  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.

The decrease from 2006 to 2016 for the Asian ethnic group was 7.2 percentage points, driven mainly by lower participation in level 1 to 7 diplomas and certificates, while for degree and higher qualifications the rate remained stable.  The participation rate for Māori decreased from 2006 to 2016 by 3.9 percentage points, mainly the result of lower participation in level 1 to 7 diplomas and certificates, with higher participation in degree and higher qualifications.  For Europeans, the overall decrease in the participation rate was 3.2 percentage points.  This decrease was mainly driven by lower participation in level 1 to 7 diplomas and certificates, coupled with a small increase in participation in degree and higher qualifications.  Pasifika had a small decrease of 0.3 percentage points from 2006 to 2016 and this was the result of a lower participation rate in level 1 to 7 diplomas and certificates, with a substantial increase (1.3 percentage points) in participation at degree and higher qualification levels.


Figure 2: Tertiary education participation rates of 16 to 64 year-olds by ethnic group (age-standardised)

Note:

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. 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.

Figure 3: Tertiary education participation rates of 16 to 64 year-olds by ethnic group and broad qualification level (age-standardised)

Gender

Women have consistently higher rates of participation in tertiary education than men.In 2016, over 13 percent of women aged 16 to 64 years and over participated in provider-based tertiary education, compared to 9.7 percent of men.  Both groups show the same general trend of decreasing participation over recent years.


Figure 4: Tertiary education participation rate of 16 to 64 year-olds by gender (age-standardised)

Qualification Level

In 2016, participation rates for people aged 16 to 64 years were highest for bachelors degrees (4.2 percent), followed by level 4 certificates (2.0 percent), level 5 to 7 diplomas/certificates (1.5 percent), and postgraduate qualifications (1.5 percent).  The participation rate for level 1 to 3 certificates was 3.2 percent overall.

Figure 5: Tertiary education participation rates of 16 to 64 year-olds by qualification level

References

  • Ministry of Education (2017) Profile & Trends 2016: New Zealand's Annual Tertiary Education Enrolments, p 6 and pp 9-10, Wellington:  Ministry of Education.