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Growing New Zealand’s economy

New Zealand’s universities are large institutions, collectively employing approximately 21,500 full-time staff and turning over $4.15 billion annually.1 The universities teach around 178,000 students and produce around 44,000 graduates each year (88% at bachelor’s degree level or higher).2  Universities spend around $1.17 billion on research and are home to 70% of the country’s researchers.1,3  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. Universities make a significant contribution to the regions that house them, their contribution representing up to 6.3% of regional GDP, counting University and student spending that contributes directly to regional GDP.4

Some key facts:

  • 177,905 students in 2019, including 113,425 Bachelor's students (64%), 56,085 post-graduate students (31.5%), and 33,900 international students (19%).2
  • 138,190 full-time equivalent students [EFTS] in 2019, including 92,360 Bachelor EFTS (67%), 38,105 post-graduate EFTS (27.5%), and 25,870 international EFTS (18.7%).2
  • 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).1
  • $4.1b total sector expenditure in 2019—around 1.4% of NZ’s gross domestic product.1,5
  • Universities make a significant contribution to the regions that house them, representing up to 6.3% of regional GDP. The University of Auckland and its student spending contributes to 2.4% of Auckland’s regional GDP. This is 6.3% for the University of Otago and itsstudents.4
  • International education generates at least $1.25 billion per year for New Zealand; universities’ earnings from export education represent 1.2 percent of all New Zealand’s exports of goods and services.5
  • A 10% increase in higher education research spending will eventually increase GDP by 1.75% to 1.84%.5
  • Universities account for 25% of New Zealand’s R&D expenditure, driving 56% of all of NZ’s basic research expenditure and 22% of applied research expenditure.6
  • Around 53% of university research expenditure is on primary industries, manufacturing, construction and transport, health (24%) and cultural understanding.6
  • NZ universities are home to around 26,000 researchers (70% of all of New Zealand’s researchers, including postgraduate research students).6

Want to know more?

[1]  Summary of 2019 annual audited accounts of universities, Universities New Zealand – Te Pōkai Tara. 

[2]  Education counts, Tertiary Statistics, Ministry of Education, 2019 data (updated  June 2020)

[3]  Research and Development Survey 2018, Statistics New Zealand  

[4]  NZIER, 2020. Draft Report " Regional activity of universities: New Zealand universities economic footprint”. (Note: report based on 2018 data)

[5] NZIER, 2020. Draft Report “Economic impact of universities: Updated contribution to growth”. (Note: report based on 2018 data)

[6] Statistics New Zealand, 2018. “Research and Development Survey: 2018 (revised)".