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Driving research and innovation

Research is critical to the operation and mission of New Zealand universities. The eight universities spend more than $1.1 billion a year on research, accounting for 63% of New Zealand’s basic research and 21% of applied research.1

Over the past two decades, our universities have placed increased focus on innovation and they generate around $700 million each year through commercialising their research (around 17% of total university income).2

University research is vital to New Zealand. It produces: 

  • new knowledge and disseminates that knowledge through research-informed teaching that produces knowledgeable graduates
  • publications that make knowledge readily available to others
  • research collaborations with industry, government and others in higher education
  • public lectures, debates, articles and other forms of media communication that aim to educate and inform the public
  • consulting services, patents and other intellectual property made available to industry on a commercial basis.

New Zealand universities train and nurture the country’s future researchers and innovators, who go on to apply their skills and knowledge in other organisations. The universities produce around 45,300 graduates each year (88% at bachelor’s degree level or higher and 3.7% at PhD level) and are home to around 57% of the country’s current researchers.1,3

Universities New Zealand's Research Committee advises it on any issue related to research or research policy in universities. 

Key facts

  • 1,700+ PhD students graduate from universities, around 58% of them international PhD graduates.3
  • Less than half all international PhD students say they plan to work in New Zealand after graduation – most in education and training, healthcare and science and technology. Around 57% are employed in New Zealand in their first year post-study, 33% after three years and 30% after five.4
  • Universities spend around $1.1 billion on research each year.1
  • Universities generate around $700 million each year through commercialising research – around 17% of their total income.2
  • Universities account for around 24% of New Zealand’s research and development spending.4
  • Universities drive 63% of all of New Zealand’s basic research spending and 21% of applied research spending.1
  • Around 57% of university research spending is on primary industries, energy, manufacturing, construction and transport, information and communication services, health, environment, and our economic framework.1
  • Home to more than 16,000 researchers – 57% of all of New Zealand’s researchers (including postgraduate research students).1

Want to know more?

[1] Research and development survey 2020, Stats NZ.

[2] Summary of 2021 annual audited accounts of universities, Universities New Zealand – Te Pōkai Tara. 

[3] Education Counts, Tertiary Statistics, Tertiary Achievement and Attainment, students gaining qualifications from tertiary education providers, Ministry of Education, 2021 data (updated June 2022).

[4] "Doctoral students and their outcomes", Universities New Zealand – Te Pōkai Tara. (Data is based on 2015 graduate cohort.)

University research websites