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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 by 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 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 countries, 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.

Key facts

  • New Zealand’s total investment in tertiary spending (including public subsidies to individuals – e.g., student loans, allowances, scholarships and other grants) is relatively high (1.7% of gross domestic product [GDP], above the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] average of 1.4%). This includes all forms of tertiary education.1
  • A greater proportion of that funding (0.9 % of GDP) goes to individuals than in many OECD countries. This is almost the same as the OECD average of 1.0% but higher than the United Kingdom (0.6%) and Australia (0.7%), although below Canada (1.2%).1
  • New Zealand currently has one university for around every 640,000 people (in line with international norms).2
  • All New Zealand universities were placed in the QS World University Rankings 2023's top 600. Three universities were in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2022's top 350 (with all eight in the top 600).3
  • Universities make a significant contribution to the regions that house them, representing up to 6.3% of regional GDP. Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland and its students' spending contributes 2.4% to Auckland’s regional GDP. The University of Otago and its students contribute 6.3% to their region.4
  • 45,300+ students graduate from New Zealand universities each year – 95% at bachelor’s degree level and above.5
  • Median hourly earnings are almost 50% higher for New Zealanders with a bachelor's degree or higher qualification compared with those with no qualifications; 22% higher compared with those with a level 4–6 tertiary certificate or diploma.6
  • New Zealand has some of the best qualification completion rates in the world. Only 18% 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 public spending per student is relatively low by international standards. Annual spending per student by public institutions in equivalent US$: New Zealand $19,663; Australia $24,297; Canada $22,335; OECD average $17,955.
  • Across the university sector, 47.2% of income comes from government tuition grants, government research funding and the Performance-Based Research Fund; 31.0% from student fees (domestic and international); and 21.8% from other sources (non-student and non-government, including other funded research, commercialisation and trading revenue).9

Want to know more?

[1] Education at a Glance 2021, Tables C2.1 and C2.4, OECD.

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

[3]  QS World University Rankings 2023 and Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2022.

[4] "Regional activity of universities: New Zealand universities' economic footprint” draft report (New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, 2020). (Note: report based on 2018 data.)

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

[6] Education Counts, Tertiary Statistics, Beyond Study, income and earnings, Ministry of Education, 2020 data (updated July 2021).

[7] Education Counts, Tertiary Statistics, Achievement and Attainment, qualification completion, attrition, and direct progression rates, Ministry of Education, 2021 data (updated June 2022).

[8] Education at a Glance 2022, Table C1.2 (all tertiary), OECD.

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