New Zealand’s universities are large institutions, collectively employing approximately 20,000 full-time staff and turning over $3.8 billion annually. The universities teach around 174,000 students and produce more than 43,000 graduates each year (90% at bachelor’s degree level or higher). Universities spend around $960 million on research and are home to 70% of the country’s researchers. 15% of their income comes from the commercialisation of research outputs. National and international evidence suggests that investing in universities is a positive way to grow an economy.
Universities, their staff, graduates and educational and research activities form an important backbone to the New Zealand economy. Universities train and produce highly-skilled workers. They produce research that underpins new growth and development. They nurture and develop the country’s future researchers and innovators. Well-regarded universities, such as New Zealand’s eight universities, attract talented staff and students from across the country and around the world, with positive flow-on effects for the regions that house them and for the country as a whole. New analysis estimates that NZ’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is 3-6% higher because of the impact that a university education has on the productivity of the workforce. New Zealand’s universities are estimated to contribute up to $19.95 billion to the regions where they are located and individually drive between 1.6% and 6.5% of regional GDP. International research suggests that GDP is 4.1% higher on average in regions that have universities.
Some key facts
- 173,880 students in 2016, including 51,575 post-graduate students (30%).1
- $3.8b total expenditure annually - accounts for around 1.2% of NZ’s gross domestic product. 2,3
- NZ’s GDP is 3-6% higher because of the impact that a university education has on the productivity of the workforce. 3
- GDP is 4.1% higher on average across regions that have universities. 4
- New Zealand’s universities contribute up to $19.95 billion to the regions where they are located and individually drive between 1.6% and 6.5% of regional GDP. 5
- A 10% increase in higher education research spending will ultimately increase GDP by 1.75-1.84%.3
- $960m spent by New Zealand universities on research last year. 6
- 20% estimated annual return on university research. 7
- $500m + generated each year through commercialising university research - about 15% of total university income. 8
- Universities account for 30% of New Zealand’s R&D expenditure, driving 67% of all of NZ’s basic research expenditure and 26% of applied research expenditure. 6
- Around 60% of university research expenditure is on physical and information sciences, health, infrastructure and our economic framework. 6
- NZ universities are home to around 27,000 researchers (70% of all of New Zealand’s researchers, including postgraduate research students).6
- The stock of all knowledge generated by NZ universities, and adopted across the wider economy, accounts for around 9% of GDP. 12
- NZ universities attract high-calibre international students: 16% are studying at PhD level. Overall, 40% are enrolled in postgraduate qualifications. 9
- International Education is NZ’s 4th largest export earner, generating $4.28 billion annually. Universities alone generate over $1 billion annually. 9,11
- For every $1m spent by international students, GDP is estimated to increase by $1.6m – supporting more than 30,000 jobs. 3
- Half of all international PhD students say they plan to work in NZ after graduation – most in education and training, healthcare, and science and technology. 12
- Across the university sector, 49% of income comes from government tuition grants, government research funding and the Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF), 29% from student fees (domestic and international), and 22% from other sources (non-student and non-government, including other funded research, commercialisation and trading revenue).2
- New Zealand’s public investment (including public subsidies to households and other private entities, like student loans, allowances, scholarships and other grants) in all forms of tertiary expenditure is relatively high - 1.8% of GDP compared with an OECD average of 1.5%. 13
- However, a greater proportion of that funding goes to private individuals than many other countries. Excluding this element, NZ’s public expenditure on tertiary education is 0.9% of GDP - below the OECD average (1.1%). 13
- 15 May 2017: "Universities generate $19.95b in regions".
- 29 July 2016: “Universities NZ becomes signatory to ORCID Joint Statement of Principle”.
Want to know more?
 Education Counts, Tertiary Statistics. ENR.10 “Domestic and international students by qualification level and sub-sector 2008-2016”. 2016 data. Updated September 2017.
 2016 university annual reports. Consolidated/group figures.
 NZIER report to Universities New Zealand – Te Pōkai Tara, 2016. “Economic impact of universities: An analysis of the contribution of New Zealand universities to economic activity”. (Note: report based on 2014 data)
 Valero, A and Van Reenen, J. “The Economic Impact of Universities: Evidence from across the globe”. Working Paper 22501. National Bureau of Economic Research. August 2016. © 2016 by Anna Valero and John Van Reenen.
 Deloitte Access Economics, 2015. “The economic contributions of Australia’s research universities – the UNSW example”.
 University Commercialisation Offices of New Zealand, 2012. “University Research Commercialisation: Driving innovation and development”.
 Education Counts, Tertiary Statistics. ENR.26 “International students by sub-sector, region of citizenship and qualification level 2016.” Updated September 2017.
 Graduate Longitudinal Study New Zealand, 2012. “Extended Baseline Report: Graduate Longitudinal Study New Zealand, 4 April 2012”.