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Tertiary education in New Zealand

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Tertiary education in New Zealand

Tertiary education in New Zealand is provided by universities, institutes of technology and polytechnics, private training establishments, industry training organisations, and wānanga (Māori education). It ranges from informal non-assessed community courses in schools through to undergraduate degrees and research-based postgraduate degrees. Post-compulsory education is regulated within the New Zealand Qualifications Framework, a unified system of national qualifications in schools, vocational education and training.


Until 1961, all university education was organised under the University of New Zealand, with university colleges around the country. Eventually the colleges became degree-awarding universities in their own right.


Typically, a bachelor's degree will take three years, and a further year of study will lead to an Honours degree. Not every degree follows this 3+1 pattern: there are some four year degrees (which may or may not be awarded with Honours), and some specialist bachelor's degrees which take longer to complete. Typically, Honours may be awarded with first class, upper second class, lower second class or third class, but this can vary from degree to degree. A bachelor's degree may be followed by a master's degree. A candidate who does not hold an Honours degree may be awarded a master's degree with honours: such a degree usually involves two years study, compared to one year for a master's degree for a candidate who does have an Honours degree. A candidate who has either a master's degree or a bachelor's degree with Honours may proceed to a doctoral degree.


Entry to most universities was previously "open" to all who met the minimum requirements in school-leaving examinations (be it NCEA or Bursary). However, most courses at New Zealand universities now have selective admission, where candidates have to fulfill additional requirements through qualifications, with the University of Auckland offering the largest number of selective-entry courses. Mature students usually do not need to meet the academic criteria demanded of students who enter directly from secondary school.


Domestic students will pay fees subsidised by the Government, and the student-paid portion of the fee can be loaned from the Government under the Government's Student Loan Scheme. Weekly stipends can be drawn from the loan for living expenses, or the student can apply for a needs based (on assessment of parental income) "Student Allowance", which does not need to be paid back.

"Bonded Merit Scholarships" are also provided by the Government to cover the student-paid portion of fees. The New Zealand Scholarship is awarded to school leavers by a competitive examination and also provides financial support to school-leavers pursuing a university degree but does not entail any requirement to stay in the country after they finish university. International students pay full (non-subsidised) fees and are not eligible for Government financial assistance.


The first university in New Zealand, the University of Otago, was founded in 1869. The next year, in 1870, the University of New Zealand was founded – the overarching university entity which eventually had a number of university colleges under it. The University of New Zealand was initially based in Wellington, but additionally opened Canterbury College in 1873, University of Otago came under its control in 1874, Auckland University College in 1883, and later Victoria University College in 1889.

The University of New Zealand system – where it was the only degree-granting university in New Zealand – lasted until 1961.

Now the colleges are independent universities in their own right, and since 1961 three new universities have been created: Auckland University of Technology, Lincoln University and Waikato University.

Universities in New Zealand:

  • Auckland University of Technology (Auckland)
  • Lincoln University (Lincoln, Canterbury)
  • Massey University (Palmerston North, Auckland, Wellington)
  • University of Auckland (Auckland)
  • University of Canterbury (Christchurch)
  • University of Otago (Dunedin) and (Invercargill)
  • University of Waikato (Hamilton)
  • Victoria University of Wellington (Wellington)
  • The overarching representative body for universities is Universities New Zealand, made up of the Vice-Chancellors of the respective institutions.

    According to the Education Act 1989, universities have the following characteristics:

    Colleges of education

    The name 'College of Education' is protected by Act of Parliament. (Previously the name 'Teachers' College' was protected.) Only universities and standalone colleges of education may use this title. Thus, privately owned institutions that are not listed in Acts and that provide teacher education such as the Bethlehem Institute (Tauranga) and New Zealand Graduate School of Education (Christchurch) must use alternative names.

    Below is a partial list of historical or existing colleges—specifically those listed in Acts of Parliament as public (Crown-owned) teacher education providers:

  • Auckland College of Education (Auckland)
  • Massey University College of Education (Palmerston North)
  • Wellington College of Education (Wellington)
  • Christchurch College of Education (Christchurch)
  • Dunedin College of Education (Dunedin)
  • Most colleges of education in New Zealand in the past 30 years have gradually consolidated (for example, Ardmore with Auckland), with the trend in the last 15 years to consider and effect mergers with universities closely allied to them, for example, the Hamilton and Palmerston North colleges amalgamated with Waikato and Massey respectively. In the 2004–2005 period, the Auckland and Wellington colleges merged with Auckland University and Victoria University respectively. In 2007, the Christchurch College of Education merged with the University of Canterbury. The remaining stand-alone college in Dunedin merged with the University of Otago in January 2007.

    Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITP)

    Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITP) offer general technical and vocational education. Curriculum are based on practical knowledge in a working environment. Courses usually take place in workplaces (workshops, hospitals, studios...), certification upon graduation are industry-related and real work experiences are usually part of the curriculum.


    A wānanga is a publicly owned tertiary institution that provides education in a Māori cultural context. Section 162 of the Education Act 1989 (re-affirmed by the Waitangi Tribunal in 2005) specifies that wānanga resemble mainstream universities in many ways. As of 2009, wānanga offer certificates, diplomas, and bachelor-level degrees, with some wānanga providing programmes in specialized areas up to doctorate level.

    Wānanga educational programmes are accredited through the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) and the Ministry of Education, and are partly governed by New Zealand's Tertiary Education Commission (TEC).

    In Maori tradition the word wānanga conveyed meanings related to highly evolved knowledge, lore, occult arts, and also "forum" in the sense of a discussion to arrive at deeper understanding.

    Recognised wānanga in New Zealand

  • Te Wānanga o Raukawa
  • Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi
  • Te Wānanga o Aotearoa
  • Private Training Establishments

    Private Training Establishments (PTEs) are to provide training often not available in the public sector. They offer curriculum in "niche occupations" like tourism, design or ICT. They also provide training to special needs groups or in time frames that support different learner needs. The tutors are generally drawn from industry rather than academia and the goal for most learners is to reach employment quickly. It has been argued that private trainers have the ability to respond quickly to the changing needs of industry. Most providers provide courses that are NZQA accredited and many offer certificates, diplomas and degrees. Private trainers offer an alternative to state schools and many learners prefer the supportive environment of most private trainers.

    Industry training organisations

    Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) co-ordinate structured training for employees, both on-job and off-job. This enables employees to gain a qualification from the New Zealand Qualifications Framework while earning money. ITOs are owned by industries, recognised by the New Zealand government, and receive funding from both government and industry. ITOs cover most of New Zealand's industries from traditional trades like building and plumbing, the primary industries, and manufacturing and retail, through to government and community services. The Industry Training Federation represents ITOs.


    Funding for tertiary education in New Zealand is through a combination of government subsidies and student fees. The government funds approved courses by a tuition grant based on the number of enrolled students in each course and the amount of study time each course requires. Courses are rated on an equivalent full-time Student (EFTS) basis. Students enrolled in courses can access student loans and student allowances to assist with fees and living costs.

    Funding for tertiary institutions has been criticised recently due to high fees and funding not keeping pace with costs or inflation. Some also point out that high fees are leading to skills shortages in New Zealand as high costs discourage participation and graduating students seek well paying jobs off shore to pay for their student loans debts. As a result, education funding has been undergoing an ongoing review in recent years.


    Most tertiary education students rely on some form of state funding to pay for their tuition and living expenses. Mostly, students rely on state provided student loans and allowances. Secondary school students sitting the state run examinations are awarded scholarships, depending on their results, that assist in paying some tuition fees. Universities and other funders also provide scholarships or funding grants to promising students, though mostly at a postgraduate level. Some employers will also assist their employees to study (full-time or part-time) towards a qualification that is relevant to their work. People who receive state welfare benefits and are retraining, or returning to the workforce after raising children, may be eligible for supplementary assistance, however students already in full or part-time study are not eligible for most state welfare benefits.

    Since National came to power in 2008, there have been a considerable number of changes made to the tertiary education sector.

    Student allowances

    Student Allowances, which are non-refundable grants to students of limited means, are means tested and the weekly amount granted depends on residential and citizenship qualifications, age, location, marital status, dependent children as well as personal, spousal or parental income. The allowance is intended for living expenses, so most students receiving an allowance will still need a student loan to pay for their tuition fees.

    Student loans

    The Student Loan Scheme is available to all New Zealand citizens and permanent residents. It covers course fees, course related expenses, and can also provide a weekly living allowance for full-time students. The loan must be repaid at a rate dependent on income and repayments are normally recovered via the income tax system by wage deductions. Low income earners and students in full-time study can have the interest on their loans written off.

    On 26 July 2005, the Labour Party announced that they would abolish interest on Student Loans, if re-elected at the 2005 general election, which they were. From April 2006, the interest component on Student Loans was abolished for students who live in New Zealand. This has eased pressure on the government from current students. However, it has caused resentment from past students many of whom have accumulated large interests amounts in the years 1992–2006. The National Party initially opposed the interest free loans policy, but after it lost the 2005 election, in early 2008 said it would keep interest off student loans.

    The Fifth National Government has to date kept interest off loans, but has increased the repayment rate from 10 to 12 per cent and reduced eligibility for the loans.

    Tertiary Education Union

    The New Zealand Tertiary Education Union (TEU) (in Maori: Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa) is the main union in the tertiary education sector, and represents the interests of more than 10,000 workers employed sector across New Zealand. Its membership includes teachers and workers employed in all occupations in universities, polytechnics, institutes of technology, wānanga, other tertiary education providers and allied organisations.

    Student associations

    There are a large number of student associations in New Zealand. The system of student associations operated on the basis of compulsory membership until 2012, after ACT MP Heather Roy's voluntary student membership bill was passed in 2011.

    A large number belong to the New Zealand Union of Students' Associations (NZUSA). The parallel overarching student association for Māori is Te Mana Ākonga, the National Māori Students' Association.

    Most universities have a student association, and some have additional Māori and Pacific student associations which generally work in parallel with the main association.

    Other nationwide student bodies

    In addition to the main students' associations at each institution, there are also an number of other student bodies, which include:

  • Aotearoa Student Press Association (ASPA)
  • Every Nation Campus Ministries (ENCM)
  • Student Life New Zealand (Christian students' association)
  • Tertiary Students Christian Fellowship
  • UniQ (association of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, takataapui and intersex students)
  • University Sport New Zealand
  • New Zealand Law Students' Association (NZLSA)
  • Student Job Search (SJS)
  • New Zealand Medical Students' Association (NZMSA)
  • References

    Tertiary education in New Zealand Wikipedia