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Growing New Zealand’s economy

New Zealand’s universities are large institutions, collectively employing around 21,500 full-time staff and turning over $4.2 billion a year.1 The universities teach around 182,900 students and produce around 45,300 graduates each year (95% at bachelor’s degree level or higher).2 Universities spend around $1.19 billion a year on research and are home to 70% of the country’s researchers.1,3  National and international evidence suggests investing in universities is a positive way to grow an economy.

Universities, their staff, graduates and educational and research activities form an important backbone to the New Zealand economy. Universities train and produce highly skilled workers. They produce research that underpins new growth and development. They nurture and develop the country’s future researchers and innovators.

Well-regarded universities, such as New Zealand’s eight, attract talented staff and students from across the country and around the world, with positive flow-on effects for the regions that house them and the country as a whole. Universities' contribution represents up to 6.3% of regional gross domestic product (GDP), counting university and student spending that contributes directly to regional GDP.4

Key facts

  •  182,900 students in 2021, including 116,070 bachelor's students (63%), 64,895 postgraduate students (35.5%) and 26,040 international students (14%).2
  • 142,700 equivalent full-time students (EFTS) in 2021, including 84,870 bachelor's EFTS (69%), 34,690 postgraduate EFTS (28%) and 19,910 international EFTS (13.9%).2
  • Across the university sector, 47.2% of income comes from government tuition grants, government research funding and the Performance-Based Research Fund, 31% 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).1
  • $4.2 billion total sector spending in 2019 – around 1.5% of New Zealand’s GDP.1,6
  • 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
  • International education generates at least $1.25 billion a year for New Zealand; universities’ earnings from export education represent 1.2% of all New Zealand’s exports of goods and services.5
  • A 10% increase in higher education research spending would eventually increase GDP by 1.75% to 1.84%.5
  • Universities account for 23.8% of New Zealand’s research and development spending, driving 63% of all of New Zealand’s basic research spending and 21% of applied research spending.3
  • Around 53% of university research spending is on primary industries, environment, education and training, health (24%) and cultural understanding.3
  • New Zealand universities are home to around 16,000 researchers (57% of all of New Zealand’s researchers, including postgraduate research students).3

Want to know more?

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

[2] Education Counts, Tertiary Statistics, Tertiary Participation, provider-based enrolments, Ministry of Education, 2021 data (updated June 2022).

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

[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] "Economic impact of universities: Updated contribution to growth” draft report (New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, 2020). (Note: report based on 2018 data.)

[6] GDP December 2021, Stats NZ (GDP series SG00RAC00B15D).