New Zealand Country Profile - Education System

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System structure

New Zealand’s education system has three levels – primary, secondary and tertiary (higher) education. Although private options are available, primary and secondary education is predominantly funded by the state. School is compulsory from the ages of 5 to 16, but most students continue for at least another two years after this. Depending on the type of state school, parents may be asked for voluntary contributions to fund activities beyond those paid for by the government, and some must also pay the compulsory ‘attendance dues’.

Academic year

The school year in New Zealand usually has four terms running from January or February to December. Terms have two-week breaks between them and there is a six-week summer break at the end of the year. Universities tend to have two or three semesters.

Higher education

New Zealand has eight universities offering undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. In addition to this, there are a range of colleges and polytechnics offering academic, vocational and professional courses. Some students also take diplomas or degree courses at wānanga – a type of institution that teaches in the Maori tradition. Qualifications at higher education level are regulated by the New Zealand Qualifications Framework.


Universities in New Zealand charge tuition fees, which vary according to the institution and the course. Fees for international students and postgraduate courses can be significantly more than for New Zealanders. The government will subsidise tuition fees for permanent residents of the country, and if you have been a resident for two years or more you may be eligible for a student loan. Loans must be repaid, but there is also a means-tested allowance grant available to some students.


Undergraduate university courses in New Zealand may last three or four years depending on the institution and qualification. For more information, or to search for a course, visit the New Zealand Education website.


Despite the relatively small number of universities in New Zealand, competition for research budget and jobs in research remains high. There are several private funds and institutions in New Zealand also compete with global rivals for international research funding. To investigate available funding options, visit the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website. 

Primary and secondary education

There are three main types of school in New Zealand: state schools, private schools and state integrated schools – former private schools that have integrated into the state system and are now mostly funded by the government. Private schools continue to charge fees although some are subsidised centrally. During secondary school, students in New Zealand work towards achieving the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), which is the main qualification for entry into higher education.

Preschool and childcare options

Preschool education in New Zealand is known as Early Childhood Education (ECE), and is provided by kindergartens, playgroups and play centres. Although ECE is not compulsory, many parents choose to take advantage of the 20 Hours ECE funded by the government for children aged three, four and five. This scheme is available to the children of foreign nationals and does not usually depend on visa status. 

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