New Zealand’s universities are large institutions, collectively employing approximately 20,000 full-time staff and turning over $3.8 billion annually. The universities teach around 174,000 students and produce more than 43,000 graduates each year (90% at bachelor’s degree level or higher). Universities spend around $960 million on research and are home to 70% of the country’s researchers. 15% of their income comes from the commercialisation of research outputs. National and international evidence suggests that 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 universities, 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 for the country as a whole. New analysis estimates that NZ’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is 3-6% higher because of the impact that a university education has on the productivity of the workforce. New Zealand’s universities are estimated to contribute up to $19.95 billion to the regions where they are located and individually drive between 1.6% and 6.5% of regional GDP. International research suggests that GDP is 4.1% higher on average in regions that have universities.
Some key facts
- 173,880 students in 2016, including 51,575 post-graduate students (30%).1
- $3.8b total expenditure annually - accounts for around 1.2% of NZ’s gross domestic product. 2,3
- NZ’s GDP is 3-6% higher because of the impact that a university education has on the productivity of the workforce. 3
- GDP is 4.1% higher on average across regions that have universities. 4
- New Zealand’s universities contribute up to $19.95 billion to the regions where they are located and individually drive between 1.6% and 6.5% of regional GDP. 5
- A 10% increase in higher education research spending will ultimately increase GDP by 1.75-1.84%.3
- $877m spent by New Zealand universities on research last year. 6
- 20% estimated annual return on university research. 7
- $500m + generated each year through commercialising university research - about 15% of total university income. 8
- Universities account for 28% of New Zealand’s R&D expenditure, driving 65% of all of NZ’s basic research expenditure and 25% of applied research expenditure. 6
- Around 54% of university research expenditure is on physical and information sciences, health, infrastructure and our economic framework. 6
- NZ universities are home to around 27,100 researchers (70% of all of New Zealand’s researchers, including postgraduate research students).6
- The stock of all knowledge generated by NZ universities, and adopted across the wider economy, accounts for around 9% of GDP. 12
- NZ universities attract high-calibre international students: 16% are studying at PhD level. Overall, 42% are enrolled in postgraduate qualifications. 9
- International Education is NZ’s 5th largest export earner, generating $4.5 billion annually. Universities alone generate over $1 billion annually. 9,11
- For every $1m spent by international students, GDP is estimated to increase by $1.6m – supporting more than 30,000 jobs. 3
- Half of all international PhD students say they plan to work in NZ after graduation – most in education and training, healthcare, and science and technology. 12
- 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).2
- New Zealand’s public investment (including public subsidies to households and other private entities, like student loans, allowances, scholarships and other grants) in all forms of tertiary expenditure is relatively high - 1.8% of GDP compared with an OECD average of 1.5%. 13
- However, a greater proportion of that funding goes to private individuals than many other countries. Excluding this element, NZ’s public expenditure on tertiary education is 0.9% of GDP - below the OECD average (1.1%). 13
- 12 December 2017: "How does NZ's research stack up?".
- 15 May 2017: "Universities generate $19.95b in regions".
- 29 July 2016: “Universities NZ becomes signatory to ORCID Joint Statement of Principle”.
Want to know more?
 Education Counts, Tertiary Statistics. ENR.10 “Domestic and international students by qualification level and sub-sector 2008-2016”. 2016 data. Updated September 2017.
 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”. (Note: report based on 2014 data)
 Valero, A and Van Reenen, J. “The Economic Impact of Universities: Evidence from across the globe”. Working Paper 22501. National Bureau of Economic Research. August 2016. © 2016 by Anna Valero and John Van Reenen.
 Statistics New Zealand, 2017. “Research and Development Survey: 2016 (revised)".
 Deloitte Access Economics, 2015. “The economic contributions of Australia’s research universities – the UNSW example”.
 University Commercialisation Offices of New Zealand, 2012. “University Research Commercialisation: Driving innovation and development”.
 Education Counts, Tertiary Statistics. ENR.26 “International students by sub-sector, region of citizenship and qualification level 2016.” Updated September 2017.
 Media Statement, Hon Steven Joyce, Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment (8 November 2016).
 Education New Zealand, 2016. “Statement of Intent 2016–2020”.
 Graduate Longitudinal Study New Zealand, 2012. “Extended Baseline Report: Graduate Longitudinal Study New Zealand, 4 April 2012”.
 OECD, 2017. "Education at a Glance 2017: OECD Indicators". Tables B2.1 and B2.3. Updated September 2017.