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Take a closer look at the tertiary sector

31 October 2017 | news

What is a university and what must it do?

That’s set out in Section 162 of the Education Act 1989, which says: “A University is characterised by a wide diversity of teaching and research, especially at a higher level, that maintains, advances, disseminates, and assists the application of, knowledge, develops intellectual independence, and promotes community learning:”

“An Institute of Technology/Polytechnic is characterised by a wide diversity of continuing education, including vocational training, that contributes to the maintenance, advancement, and dissemination of knowledge and expertise and promotes community learning, and by research, particularly applied and technological research, that aids development”:

“A Wānanga is characterised by teaching and research that maintains, advances, and disseminates knowledge and develops intellectual independence, and assists the application of knowledge regarding ahuatanga Māori (Māori tradition) according to tikanga Māori (Māori custom)”.

The Education Act also has provisions for Private Training Establishments, but doesn’t specify their characteristics.

Despite some blurring around the edges, these roles have played out largely as intended since the Education Act was passed in 1989.

Non-university providers are focussed on teaching at sub-degree level and there is comparatively little focus on research.

By contrast, 96% of university students are studying at degree level – with a quarter studying at post-graduate level. Universities invest heavily in research and this is reflected in their international citation rates, spend on research resources and the qualifications held by their teaching staff.

You can see this in the following table:


* Includes both domestic and international students.† Only Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi subscribes to Web of Science 2012-2016. No PTEs listed for 2012-2016.N/A: Data not available


  • EFTS = Equivalent Full-Time Student
  • FTE = Full-time Equivalent (staff)
  • PBRF = Performance-Based Research Fund