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How the sector works

The NZ university system

Universities are a vital part of modern society and are important not just for teaching but also for research and the development of society as a whole.  As centres of research excellence, they play an important role in economic transformation and development.

Under Section 268 of the Education and Training Act 2020 a university is defined as having the following characteristics:

(i) They are primarily concerned with more advanced learning, the principal aim being to develop intellectual independence

(ii) Their research and teaching are closely interdependent and most of their teaching is done by people who are active in advancing knowledge

(iii) They meet international standards of research and teaching

(iv) They are a repository of knowledge and expertise

(v) They accept a role as critic and conscience of society. 

Universities help society by increasing the skills and knowledge base and in the acquisition of the skills necessary for the professions such as medicine, law, teaching, accounting and engineering.

As institutions of higher learning, universities are involved not only in the basic skills needed in the profession but also in what can be called basic life skills – analysis, flexible thinking, communication, adaptation and innovation.

That is, universities don’t just train, they educate. Universities also enhance society through their contribution to our understanding of social issues and our achievement of social, economic and physical well-being.

Tertiary sector

As well as eight universities, New Zealand’s tertiary sector includes 16 publicly funded polytechnics and institutes of technology; 3 wānanga; over 240 TEC-funded private training establishments, 12 Industry Training Organisations (ITOs), and a small number of other organisations.

See the TEC website for more information about the wider tertiary sector. 

How does the sector work?

Universities are autonomous, publicly funded institutions.

Along with institutes of technology, polytechnics, and wānanga, universities are Tertiary Education Institutes (TEIs) under the Crown Entities Act 2004.

The Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) funds and monitors their performance. TEC is accountable to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment.

How are universities governed?

Each university is governed by a University Council, as set out the Education and Training Act 2020. Councils consist of 8 to 12 members, including several government appointees, and may include lay, academic and student members who are responsible for overseeing the management and control of the affairs, concerns and property of the University.

The Council is chaired by the Chancellor who is a lay member of the Council.

The Vice-Chancellor is, in effect, the chief executive of a university, responsible for managing its academic and administrative affairs. The Vice-Chancellor is the employer of all university staff and, as an ex officio member of the Council, provides the link that connects university governance (Council) and management functions.

What is the Tertiary Education Strategy?

The key sector document is the Tertiary Education Strategy which sets out the Government’s long-term strategic direction for tertiary education. It was jointly developed by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

The Strategy applies to all organisations across the wider tertiary sector.