Study Abroad in New Zealand with Arcadia University

Higher Education in New Zealand

There are five types of tertiary institutions in New Zealand: universities; polytechnics or institutes of technology; colleges of education; wananga; and private tertiary providers. The differences are described below:


University education in New Zealand has historical and cultural links to Great Britain and therefore more closely resembles the British rather than American system. Students are expected to be self-directed, most courses are taught via lectures, labs and tutorials, and there is limited continuous assessment. U.S. students are often surprised to find that final exams count for as much as 70% of the final grade and are held over three weeks at the end of the semester.

There are eight universities in New Zealand and they are all state-funded: the University of Auckland, Victoria University of Wellington, University of Otago, University of Canterbury, the University of Waikato, Massey University, Lincoln University, and Auckland University of Technology.

Application to university in New Zealand is considered on the basis of the number of credits gained by students in the National Certificate of Educational Achievement over their last three years of high school. So most students are about 18 years old in their first year of study. Any student over 20 years old can apply for any course without any university entrance qualification. This does not mean automatic entry but if the course has open entry the individual will be accepted.

There are no formal rankings of universities, but informally the four earliest established universities (Auckland, Otago, Victoria and Canterbury) probably enjoy slightly higher status. In essence, the status reflects the public's partiality toward various specialist areas offered by the university, rather than of the university itself (for example: medicine, law and engineering vs. agriculture and horticulture).

All eight universities offer a wide range of courses in science, arts and commerce but the various niche subject areas of the eight universities are as follows:

  • Otago - law, medicine, dentistry, physical education, pharmacy and surveying
  • Canterbury - law, forestry, engineering and fine arts
  • Lincoln - agriculture and horticulture
  • Victoria - architecture, design, law, public administration and social work
  • Massey - aviation, agriculture, horticulture, food technology, veterinary science
  • Waikato - law and Maori studies
  • Auckland - law, architecture, planning, engineering, medicine, optometry, and fine arts
  • Auckland University of Technology - business, applied arts, nursing and design


There are 24 polytechnics or institutes of technology ranging from small rural institutions to major urban ones. Polytechnics provide a wide range of academic, vocational and professional courses.

The historical emphasis on the practical rather than theoretical means that many courses receive significant input from industry and research is often is usually applied/technical and is focused on aiding development. Tutors and lecturers are often from relevant industries and work experience is often part of the course.

The polytechnics traditional emphasis on community education has led these institutions to adopt a more flexible and open admission process, where students can enter at a lower academic level and complete foundation courses and pre-certificates that allow them to continue their education toward further certificate, diploma and degree programs. 

The academic year is longer at polytechnics and the hours are far less flexible than at universities. There are smaller class sizes, greater class contact time, and more teaching rather than lecturing.

Colleges of Education

Colleges of Education were set up primarily to train teachers. They offer early childhood, primary, and secondary education as well as a range of specialist post-graduate study. Teaching practice is an integral part of New Zealand teacher education, thus trainees spend much time teaching in schools.

There are two Colleges of Education in New Zealand, Christchurch and Dunedin. Auckland College of Education merged with University of Auckland in September 2004 and Wellington College of Education merged with Victoria University in January 2005. Other universities and some polytechnics also offer teacher training, but courses running outside of Colleges of Education are usually for people already involved in teaching or for people who already hold a degree.


There are three Wananga in New Zealand. Wananga are state-funded Maori teaching and research institutions that are modeled on an ancient Maori institution of higher learning 'the whare wananga'.

Wananga provide tertiary education to all iwi (tribes) and people wishing to study in a uniquely Maori environment that is administered according to tikanga Maori (Maori customs). There is a strong emphasis on use of Maori language and protocol in all areas of study.  To make courses as accessible as possible, study can be undertaken on a full- or part-time basis, as well as in the evenings and on weekends.

Private Tertiary Providers

There are now nine, private tertiary institutions in New Zealand that offer specialized tertiary study in areas such as bible studies, international studies, English language, tourism, business, and art and design. Typically, these schools offer a very specialized area of study, have small class sizes and often enroll high numbers of overseas students.