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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. In addition, New Zealand’s tertiary sector 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 (1.8% of GDP compared with an OECD average of 1.5%). 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 0.9% of GDP - below the OECD average (1.1%). This is the same as the United States (0.9%), below Canada (1.3%) and Denmark (1.6%), and higher than Australia (0.7%).1
  • NZ currently has one university per approx. 580,000 people (in line with international norms). 2,3
  • All 8 universities are ranked in the world’s top 500 (3%). 4,5
  • New Zealand’s GDP is 3 to 6% higher because of the impact that a university education has had on the productivity of the workforce with university qualifications (28% of the workforce in 2014).6
  • In addition to being more productive themselves, graduates lift the productivity of other employees in their workplaces. This accounts for around 0.8% of GDP. 6
  • The wages of workers without a degree are 1.6 to 1.9% higher as a consequence of working with graduates. 7
  • 93% of international university students choose to study in NZ because of the strong reputation of our universities. 7
  • Research suggests that more than half of early career academics (within the first seven years of their first permanent academic appointment) in NZ universities were born overseas. 8
  • 43,000+ students graduate from NZ universities each year – 90% at bachelor’s degree level and above. 9
  • Median weekly earnings of graduates with a bachelor's degree or higher qualifiction are 161 percent higher than those without any qualifications.10
  • University course completion rates are the highest in the tertiary education sector - 86% compared with 80% for students studying at a private training establishment (PTE) and 77% for polytechnic/ITP and wānanga students.10
  • 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 $16,219; Australia $19,772; Canada $25,185; OCED average $16,674.11 
  • In 2014, NZ delivered its outputs with 19% less infrastructure than did Australian universities. That is, Australian universities had NZ$57,280 of buildings, plant and equipment per EFTS compared with NZ$46,381 for New Zealand universities. 12
  • A 10% increase in higher education research spending will ultimately increase GDP by 1.75-1.84%. e.g another $80m into research annually would generate $4.5bn annually within 10-20 years. 6
  • 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). 13
  • The number of doctoral students per academic staff member at universities was around 12% higher, on average, in 2015 than in 2010. 14

Related news

Want to know more?

[1] OECD, 2017. “Education at a Glance 2017: OECD Indicators”. Tables B2.1 and B2.3. Updated September 2017.

[2] Universities New Zealand; Universities Australia;; Universities UK; Universities Canada

[3] World Bank population estimates, 2016.

[4] QS World University Rankings 2018

[5] International Association of Universities' Worldwide Database of Higher Education Institutions, Systems and Credentials.

[6] 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”.

[7] I-Graduate International Insight, 2015. “International Barometer Survey: University sector results 2015”. Available from

[8] Sutherland, K et al, 2013. “Success in Academia? The experiences of early career academics in New Zealand universities”. Ako Aotearoa National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence/Victoria University of Wellington.

[9] Education Counts, Tertiary Statistics. COM.9 “Domestic and international students completing qualifications by qualification level and sub-sector 2008-2016”.

[10] Ministry of Education, 2017. “Profile & Trends Part 2: Tertiary Education Outcomes and Qualification Completions”.

[11] OECD, 2017. “Education at a Glance 2017: OECD Indicators”. “Table B1.1 Annual expenditure per student by educational institutions for all services (2014)”. In equivalent USD converted using PPPs for GDP, by level of education, based on full-time equivalents. Tertiary (including R&D activities) - Bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees only. Short-cycle tertiary study excluded.

[12] Data calculated from the combined 2014 annual reports of NZ’s eight universities and the combined 2014 financial information provided by Australian universities to the Australian Government’s Department of Education and Training.

[13] 2016 university annual reports. Consolidated/group figures.

[14] Ministry of Education, 2016. "Profile and Trends: New Zealand’s Tertiary Education Research 2015".

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