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2015 Tertiary Education Performance

The tertiary education sector

New Zealand’s economic and social well-being relies in part on a high-quality and responsive tertiary education system. Its most important role is to help New Zealanders develop the right knowledge and skills to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Tertiary education in New Zealand includes all post-school education, from adult and community education, literacy and numeracy skills and industry training (including New Zealand Apprenticeships) to certificates and diplomas, Bachelor-level degrees and postgraduate qualifications. These are delivered or arranged by many types of tertiary education organisations (TEOs) (figure 1).

Figure 1: Types of tertiary education organisations
Figure 1: Types of tertiary education organisations

Funding, participation, and educational performanceTop

In 2015 the government invested approximately $2.81 billion in direct funding to TEOs to achieve the goals detailed in its Tertiary Education Strategy. This equated to an increase of $42.2 million on 2014.

In early 2014 the government released the Tertiary Education Strategy 2014–19 (TES), which signalled new priorities for tertiary education in New Zealand. The new TES emphasised a shift in focus from system outputs to outcomes and the opportunity for New Zealand to develop a tertiary system that is more flexible, outward-facing, engaged and focused on improving outcomes for learners and the country.

With the New Zealand economy continuing to show healthy growth, the labour market increased by approximately 32,000 people throughout 2015 and the unemployment rate continued to fall. Tertiary education enrolment numbers of domestic students were down on 2014, which may be due in part to improving labour market conditions as employment becomes a more attractive option.


In 2015 the TEC continued to move funding from low-performing provision to high-performing provision that accelerates skills development and contributes to our economic growth. It also continued to respond to labour market demand by focusing tertiary education in the areas of engineering, ICT and primary industries. Over the year, the TEC focus for the tertiary sector remained on making a bigger contribution to New Zealand’s economic growth within current levels of government investment. This meant focusing on outcomes and raising performance – especially for Māori and Pasifika learners, where the biggest gains are to be made.

Table 1: Tertiary Education Commission Funding, 2014 and 2015
Tertiary Education Organisations 2014 2015
  $(000) % $(000) %
Universities $1,472,796 53% $1,537,728 55%
Institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs) $595,356 22% $592,003 21%
Wānanga $168,501 6% $160,103 6%
Industry training organisations (ITOs) $185,398 7% $188,746 7%
Private training establishments (PTEs) $311,065 11% $293,978 10%
Other funded organisations1 $32,104 1% $34,912 1%
Grand Total $2,765,220 100% $2,807,470 100%

Participation and performance

Overall, 405,074 students, or 268,866 equivalent full-time students (EFTS) (excluding industry training), were enrolled in formal qualifications at TEOs in 2015. Of these, 221,872 EFTS (336,603 students), were SAC enrolments, 37,618 EFTS (54,430 students) were international full-fee paying students, and 9,376 EFTS (14,041 students) were enrolled in Youth Guarantee-funded programmes.

Also in 2015, 133,948 trainees [44,513 standard training measures (STMs)] were engaged in industry-based training, including 35,344 Modern Apprenticeships and New Zealand Apprentices.

Figure 2: Total learner numbers and delivery volumes 2012–2015
Figure 2: Total learner numbers and delivery volumes 2012-2015

Overall there was no significant change in educational performance for 2015. There was however an increase in the progression rate in the University sector of 16 percentage points, from 50.0% to 65.6% (note that this measure fluctuates in the university sector as low enrolment numbers at levels 1–4 mean that small changes in the number of learners progressing can disproportionally affect the rate). In terms of educational achievement, the ITO sector saw a moderate improvement and the PTE sector a moderate decline compared with 2014.

Figure 3: Participation and achievement by sub-sector 2014–2015
Figure 3: Participation and achievement by sub-sector 2014–2015

Over the last few years formal provider-based delivery has continued to gradually shift away from lower levels toward higher levels on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF). In 2015 this trend continued with slight increases in the proportion of EFTS delivered at level 7+. In terms of actual EFTS delivered, there were decreases across most levels but small increases at levels 8, 9 and 10.

Figure 4: SAC EFTS by level of study 2012–2015
Figure 4: SAC EFTS by level of study 2012–2015

In terms of area of study, there was little change in the relative volume of delivery for 2015. The largest proportion of delivery was in Society and Culture (26%), followed by Management and Commerce (16%) and Health (11%).

Figure 5: SAC EFTS delivery by subject area 2014–2015
Figure 5: SAC EFTS delivery by subject area 2014-2015

1This includes $ 22.56 million, to 377 schools, to fund Gateway, ACE in Communities, Youth Guarantee, Intensive Literacy and Numeracy and Workplace Literacy.