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Education System

Everything you need to know about the education system of New Zealand

The New Zealand education system is diverse but still one of the world’s best, sustaining excellent standards in literacy, mathematics and the sciences as well as consistently receiving a high ranking when measured  by global standards.

A New Zealand education is increasingly international, a result of wider employment markets, an increasingly mobile teaching staff and researchers as well as a well-travelled body of students.

How it works

There are three levels to New Zealand’s education system – early childhood, school and then university. Students progress through a variety of pathways and there is a degree of flexibility following these routes. A range of institutions offer a variety of courses and programmes. With university being the highest level of education and qualifications at all levels, these universities are governed ensuring the students gain a relevant and meaningful qualification.

At university, students can study a bachelor’s degree or a postgraduate course (these include certificate, postgraduate diploma, master’s and doctoral programmes). Vocational courses focus more on practical skills and specific industry training. Such vocational training courses are offered at government-funded institutions, including TAFE (Technical and Further Education) colleges, or alternative private institutions. Many of these colleges offer their students credit towards a university course.

Qualifications framework

At the core of the New Zealand education system is the New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF). You will find that all qualifications are listed on this framework. This ensures a recognized qualification that is trusted worldwide.

Fees and scholarships
New Zealand is an ideal place for you to enjoy the outstanding quality of life whilst studying following your world-class studies, yet there are some expenses you need to think about before starting your studies in New Zealand.

Tuition fees for international students can vary according to both the type and length of your course. The universities in New Zealand set their own tuition fees, based on the subject and level of study. On average, an undergraduate (bachelor’s) degree will cost between NZ$18,000 to NZ$45,000 a year. An average postgraduate degree will cost between NZ$15,000 and NZ$36,000 a year.

Teaching and learning style
International students will find that New Zealand offers a very supportive environment. The number of students in the  classroom is commonly smaller than the number in other western countries, which means you’ll receive more personalised attention. Teaching methods are always developing - you will experience a variety of teaching techniques and learning environments. The support international students, like you, receive extends beyond the classroom. The New Zealand Government was the first in the world to have a code of practice that outlines the standard of care for international students both in and outside the classroom.

You can choose a study programme at all levels of education including English language courses, vocational education and training (VET), both undergraduate and postgraduate studies at university. Tertiary education in New Zealand includes both higher education (including universities) and vocational education and training (VET).

Higher education

Higher education courses are taken by students leading to an advanced degree with the possibility of continuing their studies in New Zealand. There are three main types of higher education that lead to a bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree. At university, the teaching usually takes place in large group lectures as well as small group tutorials.

A vocational education and training (VET) qualification provides a pathway to either joining the workforce or proceeding to university. There are numerous vocational training courses in a wide range of areas including art and media, business services, childcare, construction, information technology, manufacturing and rural industries, mining, transport and logistics, tourism and hospitality.

Pathway programs
For international students there are a number of pathway programmes leading to higher education including foundation studies and English language preparation programmes. International students receive the extra support and help they need in order to succeed.

Academic year
In New Zealand the secondary school system starts the academic year in late January / early February. Vocational and university students start at the end of February / early March. Most secondary schools in New Zealand have either three or four terms, while universities and vocational colleges have two semesters. Exams are held at the end of each semester in June and November. Between the semesters there is a 2-4 week break with a longer break during the summer from November / December to February. In some cases, your institution may offer a summer programme, which means you can study a third semester.

Learning english
An important factor when planning your studies in New Zealand is your English proficiency. If your English language skills are limited, you may be advised to enroll in an English language study programme before starting your chosen course.

English language courses are available from a range of organisations and learning institutions and can be either full-time or part-time. Private English schools also provide a wide variety of courses for all ages; you can even find courses with a business or adventure focus! Some universities will assess you when you arrive and place you in an English course appropriate to your level, receiving upon completion a Certificate of Attainment in English Language.

Upon graduation
After graduation, the New Zealand Government provides pathways for recent graduates to continue to live and work in New Zealand. Depending on your area of study, you may have the opportunity to stay and work in New Zealand for up to four years.

The graduate pathway has two steps: a post-study work visa that allows you up to 12 months to find employment related to your field of study, or an employer-assisted work visa that permits you to remain in New Zealand for either two or three years in order to gain work experience in a specific job with a specific employer.

Postgraduate study

Now you have finished your bachelor’s degree, how do you know if postgraduate studies in New Zealand are right for you? Postgraduate studies can be a big step. requiring you to take even more time out of the workforce, but this can investment can pay off for you in the long term.


Why Study in New Zealand?

New Zealand is a great destination for international students, offering a world-class educational system.

Living in New Zealand

New Zealand is one of the most popular options for students looking to study abroad because of the quality of life that it affords alongside its close proximity to other Pacific countries including Australia, Fiji and New Caledonia.

New Zealand Universities

IDP Education partners with all New Zealand universities as well as a broad range of institutes of technology, schools and private providers.


As a pioneer in International education, we are truly global in scale and experience.

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