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Tertiary education in New Zealand

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Tertiary education
Tertiary education in New Zealand is provided by universities, institutes of technology and polytechnics, private training establishments, industry training organisations, and wānanga (Māori education). It ranges from informal non-assessed community courses in schools through to undergraduate degrees and research-based postgraduate degrees. All post-compulsory education is regulated within the New Zealand Qualifications Framework, a unified system of national qualifications for schools, vocational education and training, and 'higher' education. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) is responsible for quality assuring all courses and tertiary education organisations other than universities. Under the Education Act 1989, The Committee on University Academic Programmes (CUAP) and the Academic Quality Agency (AQA) have delegated authority for quality assurance of university education. The Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) is responsible for administering the funding of tertiary education, primarily through negotiated investment plans with each funded organisation.

Until 1961, all university education was organised under the University of New Zealand, with university colleges around the country. Eventually the colleges became degree-awarding universities in their own right.

Funding for tertiary education in New Zealand is through a combination of government subsidies and student fees. The government funds approved courses by a bulk grant (the Student Achievement Component) based on the number of enrolled students in each course and the amount of study time each course requires. Courses are rated on an equivalent full-time Student (EFTS) basis. Specific funding for each individual organisation is negotiated with the Tertiary Education Commission and established through an Investment Plan that allocates funding over a rolling triennium. Students enrolled in NZQA-approved courses at providers can access student loans and student allowances to assist with fees and living costs.

Industry Training is funded differently than other forms of tertiary education. A separate pool of funding - the Industry Training Fund - is used to support training and apprenticeships organised through ITOs, and this system is based on a Standard Training Measure (STM) rate that is considerably lower than per-EFTS rates for courses in the same field and at the same level. The difference in per-learner funding levels between provider-based and ITO-based tertiary education has been a considerable source of tension since the establishment of the industry training system. Apprentices and trainees learning through ITOs are unable to access student financial support (both allowances and loans), on the basis that they are full-time employees earning a wage or salary.

Funding for tertiary institutions has been criticised recently due to high fees and funding not keeping pace with costs or inflation. Some also point out that high fees are leading to skills shortages in New Zealand as high costs discourage participation and graduating students seek well paying jobs off shore to pay for their student loans debts. As a result, education funding has been undergoing an ongoing review in recent years.

Most tertiary education students rely on some form of state funding to pay for their tuition and living expenses. Mostly, students rely on state provided student loans and allowances. Secondary school students sitting the state run examinations are awarded scholarships, depending on their results, that assist in paying some tuition fees. Universities and other funders also provide scholarships or funding grants to promising students, though mostly at a postgraduate level. Some employers will also assist their employees to study (full-time or part-time) towards a qualification that is relevant to their work. People who receive state welfare benefits and are retraining, or returning to the workforce after raising children, may be eligible for supplementary assistance, however students already in full or part-time study are not eligible for most state welfare benefits.

Over the term of the fifth National Government (2008-2017), considerable changes were made to the tertiary education sector.

In 2017, following the election of the sixth Labour-led Government, Minister of Education Chris Hipkins introduced an entitlement of one year's fees-free tertiary education for all New Zealand school leavers. This entitlement applies to New Zealand citizens or permanent residents who have not yet undertaken post-compulsory education at Level 3 or above of the Qualifications Framework. It covers fees for any study at Level 3 or above, including apprenticeships, provider-based vocational education, or degree-level study; it does not contribute to living costs.


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