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Efficient and effective universities

New Zealand’s universities are high-performing by international standards. We attract high-calibre staff and students from all over the world. Our teaching and research is of international standard, backed up strong graduate outcomes, internationally regarded research outputs and excellent teaching.

The university sector has worked relentlessly to enhance teaching and research activities, to increase international relationships and profile, and to provide graduates with the skills they need to succeed in the workforce and in life. Research confirms the major contribution New Zealand’s eight universities make to the nation’s economy, through productivity gains from research, innovation and teaching as well as through international education.

New Zealand universities are also highly efficient. The New Zealand government invests significant amounts into tertiary education—higher than many other countries—but a greater proportion of that funding goes to private individuals via student loans, allowances, scholarships and grants than in most other countries.

New Zealand’s tertiary sector also has a greater diversity of institutions than many other jurisdictions, resulting in a proportionately lower share coming to universities. The result is a sector that achieves a lot with—comparatively—little and continues to showcase each year the benefits of investing in New Zealand’s efficient and effective universities.

Some key facts

  • New Zealand’s total investment (including public subsidies to households and other private entities, like student loans, allowances, scholarships and other grants) in tertiary expenditure is relatively high (1.5% of GDP, same as the OECD average). This includes all forms of tertiary education.1
  • A greater proportion of that funding goes to private individuals than many other countries. Excluding this element, NZ’s public expenditure on all forms of tertiary education is 1% of GDP—slightly below the OECD average (1.1%). This is higher than the United States (0.9%), United Kingdom (0.9%), and Australia (0.7%) but below Canada (1.3%).1
  • NZ currently has one university per approx. 611,000 people (in line with international norms).2
  • All 8 universities are ranked in the world’s top 500 (3%).3
  • Universities make a significant contribution to the regions that house them, up to 6.3% of regional GDP (including university and student spending contributing directly to regional GDP).  For example, the University of Auckland and its student spending contributes 2.4% of Auckland’s regional GDP. This figure is 6.3% for the University of Otago and its students.4
  • 43,900+ students graduate from NZ universities each year – 88% at bachelor’s degree level and above.5
  • Median hourly earnings are 50% higher for NZers with a Bachelor's degree or higher qualification compared with those with no qualifications – more than twice the earnings premium of those with lower-level tertiary qualifications.6
  • New Zealand has some of the best qualification completion rates in the world. Only 19% of full-time students who start a Bachelor's-level qualification at a university in New Zealand do not have a qualification within eight years.7
  • In achieving these outcomes, New Zealand’s tertiary expenditure per student is relatively low by international standards. Annual expenditure per student (Bachelor's, Master's and doctoral, including R&D activities) in equivalent US$: New Zealand $14,933; Australia $16,170; Canada $23,700; OCED average $15,556.8 
  • Across the university sector, 44.6% of income comes from government tuition grants, government research funding and the Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF); 30.6% from student fees (domestic and international); and 24.8% from other sources (non-student and non-government, including other funded research, commercialisation and trading revenue).9

Want to know more?

[1] OECD, 2019. “Education at a Glance 2019: OECD Indicators”. Tables B2.1 and B2.3.

[2] International Association of Universities' Worldwide Database of Higher Education Institutions.

[3] QS World University Rankings 2021.

[4] NZIER Draft report to Universities New Zealand – Te Pōkai Tara, 2020. “Regional activity of universities New Zealand universities economic footprint”. 

[5] Education Counts, Tertiary Statistics. Ministry of Education “Students gaining qualifications from tertiary education providers. 2019 data (updated June 2020).

[6] Education Counts, Tertiary Statistics. Beyond study: Education and earnings. Ministry of Education. 2019 data (updated April 2020).

[7] Education Counts, Tertiary Statistics: Retention and achievement. Qualification completion, attrition, and direct progression rates. Updated June 2020.

[8] OECD, 2019. “Education at a Glance 2019: OECD Indicators”. Table C1.1 (All Tertiary).

[9] 2019 university annual reports. Consolidated/group figures. Universities New Zealand.