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New Zealand on Top 10 Countries to Study

Leonardo Tissot
Leonardo Tissot
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Quick take: New Zealand is number 13 in the Human Development Report and number 10 on education rankings such as the World Economic Forum. One thing has a lot to do with the other.

With quality government-funded basic education, New Zealand is able to prepare their students for academic and professional success. Providing financial support to students so they can earn a degree is a common practice, and the country is not worried to receive the money back – only those who are fully employed after college have to pay it back.

New Zealand‘s Demographics

Illustration New Zealand's Demographics - Map and flag

Illustration New Zealand's Demographics - map, flag and Auckland location

New Zealand



Mostly English and Maori

4,692 million

Accounting, Construction and Engineering, Education and Training, Hospitality and Tourism, Healthcare and Medical1,2,3,4

New Zealand Dollar

50.3% female, 49.7% male

Top 5 Education Indicators

Graphic Top 5 education indicators

One of the Most Developed Nations in the World

More than being the home of the classic cinema trilogy “The Lord of The Rings,” New Zealand is one of the most developed nations in the world, as recognized by the United Nations’ Human Development Report (HDR), where it is positioned as number 13 among 188 listed countries.22

Their efforts in education surely play a big part in these results. With an “Expected Years of Schooling” rate of 19.2 in the HDR, a young New Zealander’s journey in school starts around 5 years old. By the time they complete their sixth birthday, all children must be enrolled in primary school.23

Often, students attend these institutions until they are 12 years of age, from years (grades) 1 to 8. In cases when primary schools only offer instruction up to year 6, children are enrolled in intermediate schools for years 7 and 8.24

In New Zealand, most of these schools are state-owned institutions, meaning they are government-funded and are therefore free of charge for all families, and teach New Zealand’s National Curriculum. However, there are different types of schools, based on the culture, particular philosophies, special education needs and even health, learning, talent or behavioral issues.  Those are called state integrated schools. Private schools (which charge a tuition fee) are also available.

Another option for parents in New Zealand is to enroll children in distance school. Te Kura is a Ministry of Education funded school that provides distance education with personalized programs for students from an early age until 13 years old.25

Did You Know? How Does It Work?
In New Zealand, children have the right to be enrolled in schools that are located in the neighborhood they live in – a rule that is named “Zoning” in the country. You have a right to be enrolled in the school pertaining to the zone you live in. It is allowed to apply for other schools, but enrollment depends on availability. It is common for parents to move their families to zones where the best rated schools are located. Best-rated schools typically receive more funding from the government.
Zoning Impacts Real Estate Market and Economy of New Zealand Towns
Zoning rules impact the country’s real estate market. Properties located near well-rated schools tend to have a higher market value.26

Secondary Schools and the Way to the NCEA

By the time kids turn 13, they are enrolled in secondary school. They can often finish their studies when they turn 16, when it comes time to define whether they’ll pursue higher education, additional training in an area of preference, or start their professional careers. “Legally, students have to be in school until 16 years old,” explains Philip Wyatt, who worked for 16 years as a History, Classical Studies and Social Studies teacher and also as Head of the History and Classical Studies Department at Christchurch Boys High School in New Zealand, currently living in Australia where he works as a relief teacher. The last two years of school are optional.

While the state also funds secondary education, private schools are available if preferred. One of the main differences between private and public institutions is that the private ones are not required to follow the National Curriculum.

In the last three years of high school students work towards the National Certificate of Education (NCEA). At 16 years old, students receive their certificate. As the New Zealand Qualifications Authority website informs, every year, students are dedicated to a number of courses or subjects, and their skills and knowledge are assessed against a number of standards. Schools use a range of internal and external assessments to measure how well students meet these standards. Every time students achieve a standard, they get a number of credits. In order to receive an NCEA certificate, students are required to complete a certain number of credits.27

The latter, was a considerable controversial change made in New Zealand in the early 2000s. “It moved away from the traditional way – teaching a course and then having an exam and giving students a grade – to a standard-based approach [an alternative method], that had a different orientation,” says Wyatt. The new approach – which was not common practice in many other countries – essentially split up courses by skill sets, with two possible results: either a student achieved it or not. “But for some subjects, it wasn’t enough, because the question remained: we knew if the students could do it, but could they do it well? So, in the end, the country settled in one approach, where students could get four different grades: ‘not achieved’, ‘achieved’, ‘achieved with merit’ and ‘achieved with excellence’,” Wyatt adds.

The NCEA is not only required for higher education acceptance, but is also recognized by employers as well as universities overseas, making it a valuable achievement for young New Zealanders in search of study opportunities and professional growth.


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Possibilities and Challenges of New Zealand’s Higher Education System

With eight universities, 18 technological institutes and over 600 training schools, New Zealand is more than prepared to qualify its young adults before they enter the job market. The traditional University of Auckland, with over a century of history, is among the best in the world, ranked at number 81 in the QS World University Rankings 2016-2017.

New Zealand’s tertiary sector covers private training establishments (PTEs), institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs), wananga (tertiary institutions that impart knowledge about Maori tradition and customs), universities and workplace training.28

When students finish secondary school and are accepted into university, they are automatically eligible to a government loan in order to afford their tuition. Paying back the loan is only required once they start earning a minimum specific salary. And, if they don’t get a job, they don’t have to pay anything back to the country. “There’s a commitment from the government, that you are going to get employed after you graduate, or they’re never going to see their money back,” Wyatt explains.

Nonetheless, an increasing issue in New Zealand higher education is that a growing population is beginning to question the economic value of a degree – the fees you pay, the time it takes to graduate, and the lack of employment opportunities upon course completion. Big universities, such as Auckland, still attract a large number of students, especially for more traditional courses like Law and Medicine. But it is getting harder to attract students to other areas, especially considering a degree is not as needed in New Zealand as it is in other countries. “You can still have a profitable career without it and make a great living compared to some other countries,” says Wyatt.

Another issue has to do with the country’s investment in Research and Development (R&D), which is a few steps behind other small advanced economies, such as Denmark, Finland and Singapore, to name a few. The government started to work on the matter, specifically with legislative changes that aimed toward assisting enterprise involvement with R&D. According to the “Research and Development in New Zealand: 2014” statistics report, since that year, “loss-making start-up companies are able to ‘cash out’ all or part of their tax losses from R&D expenditure. Also, all businesses are allowed tax deductibility for R&D ‘black hole’ spending that was previously not deductible or able to be depreciated.”29

This change actually helped reinvigorate R&D investments in the country. As the “Research and Development in New Zealand: 2016” informs, total research and development expenditure increased 20% from 2014. Business expenditure alone was increased by nothing less than 29% in two years.30

5 Highlights of Education in New Zealand

1. New Zealand’s education system is number 10 on the World Economic Forum’s Competitiveness Rankings.31

2. All children and youngsters have access to a high quality, government-funded education until 18 years of age.

3. At approximately US$ 91,500, professor wages are among the best in Oceania/Asia, only after Australia.

4. While struggling to attract local students to their universities, New Zealand is a great place for international students to enroll in their courses. Most foreign students in New Zealand come from China, United States and Malaysia.

5. Since universities are private but have government funding, tuition fees are more affordable than in many other first world countries – and graduates only have to start paying back the loans once they are fully employed.

Final Illustration Kiwi bird




TRiiBU Studio


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4 University Staff Academic Salaries and Remuneration: A Comparison of New Zealand and Select International (Australia, Canada, UK and USA) Data [PDF]. (2012, April). Universities New Zealand Te Pokai Tara.

5 Salary: Assistant Professor in India. (n.d.). Retrieved November 23, 2017, from,5_IN115_KO6,25.htm.

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9 Key Facts & Data. (n.d.). Retrieved November 23, 2017, from

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23 P. (2017, November 08). Different types of primary and intermediate schools. Retrieved November 23, 2017, from

24 Te Kura – About us. (n.d.). Retrieved November 23, 2017, from

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