Everything you need to know about the education system in New Zealand
The education system in New Zealand is enormously diverse and one of the best in the world, maintaining excellent standards in literacy, mathematics and sciences and ranking well consistently by global standards.
New Zealand education is also becoming increasingly international, influenced by wide employment markets and an increasingly mobile network of teaching staff, researchers and a well-travelled population of students.
How it works
New Zealand’s education system has three levels – early childhood, school and university. Students can progress through a variety of flexible pathways in the system, supported by a range of institutions that offer a variety of courses and programs. University is the highest level of education and qualifications at all levels are governed to ensure students gain a relevant and meaningful qualification.
Students attend university to undertake bachelor degrees or postgraduate courses (including certificate, postgraduate diploma, master and doctoral programs). Vocational courses focus on practical skills and industry training. Vocational training courses are offered in government-funded institutions, or other private institutions. Many colleges offer students credit towards university courses.
The New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF) is the core of the education system. All qualifications are listed on this framework, assuring quality that is recognised and trusted worldwide.
Fees and scholarships
New Zealand is an ideal place to enjoy a world-class education and outstanding quality of life, but there are several expenses to consider before you study overseas.
Tuition fees for international students vary according to the type and length of the course. Each university in New Zealand sets its own tuition fees, depending on subject and level of study. The average undergraduate (bachelor) degree costs between NZ$22, 000 to NZ$30,000 a year. The average postgraduate degree costs between NZ$25,000 and NZ$35,000 a year.
A scholarship is a great way to help pay for study and living expenses. Gaining a scholarship may mean you don’t have to look for work, allowing you the time to focus on your studies. There are a range of scholarships available for international students. It is best to check the scholarships website of your chosen university for the most up-to-date information.
Teaching and learning style
New Zealand offers a very supportive environment for its international students. The number of students per classrooms is often smaller than other western countries, allowing for more personalised attention. As teaching methods are constantly developing, you will experience a wide range of teaching techniques and environments. The support for international students goes even further than the classroom, with the New Zealand Government being the first in the world to create a code of practice that outlines a standard of care for international students both in the classroom and outside of it.
You can study at all levels of education from vocational education and training (VET), English language courses to higher education (including universities), both undergraduate and postgraduate studies. Tertiary education includes higher education (including universities) and vocational education and training (VET).
Higher education courses can be taken by students to earn an advanced degree and continue their studies in New Zealand. There are three main types of higher education that lead to bachelor, master and doctoral degrees. Teaching at universities normally takes place in large group lectures and small group tutorials.
A vocational education and training (VET) qualification can provide a pathway to entering the workforce or university. There are many vocational training courses in areas such as information technology, business services, art and media, tourism and hospitality, childcare, transport and logistics, construction, mining, manufacturing and rural industries.
There are also many pathway programs to higher education for international students including foundation studies and English language preparation programs. These ensure that students receive the extra support and assistance they need to succeed.
The New Zealand secondary school system starts each year in late January or early February, while vocational and university students start at the end of February/early March. Most secondary schools have three or four terms; universities and vocational colleges have two semesters. Exams are held at the end of each semester (June and November), with 2-4 week breaks between each semester and a longer break over the summer from November/December to February. In some instances, you may be able to choose a course that offers a summer program, which means you can do a third semester in the year.
Learning English is probably the most important factor when planning your studies in New Zealand. If your proficiency in the English language is limited, you may be advised to enrol in an English language school before starting your program of study.
Courses are available from a wide variety of organisations and learning institutions and can be either full-time or part-time. Private English schools provide a variety of courses for all ages and can include a business or adventure focus! Some universities offer a Certificate of Attainment in English Language, which is a full-time course. When you arrive, your English is assessed and you will be placed in an appropriate level.
The New Zealand Government offers pathways for recent graduates to live and work in New Zealand. Depending on the area of study, you may have the opportunity to stay and work in New Zealand for up to four years initially.
Your graduate pathway has two steps: a post-study work visa that offers you up to 12 months to find a job in a related field of study, or an employer-assisted work visa that allows you to stay in New Zealand for either two or three years to gain work experience related to a specific job with a specific employer.
If you are finishing your bachelor degree, how do you know if undertaking postgraduate study in New Zealand is the next step for you? Deciding to go on to postgraduate study is a big step. It means sacrificing more time and staying out of the workforce a bit longer, but it can also be a very worthwhile investment in the long term.