New Zealand Education System: A Comprehensive Guide for Students

New Zealand Education System

Table of Content

  1. Understanding the New Zealand Education System
  2. Different stages of the New Zealand education system
  3. Curriculum and assessment in the New Zealand education system
  4. Which Exams Are Required to Study in New Zealand Universities?
  5. Level of study: New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF)
  6. Understanding Higher or tertiary education for international students
  7. Top Universities in New Zealand
  8. Frequently Asked Questions

In a report by the World Economic Forum, New Zealand was found to allocate the highest percentage of its GDP to education. This proves the country’s commitment to ensuring its people have a good educational experience. If you are an international student aiming to seek a top-tier education and learn about the benefits of studying in a New Zealand university classroom, this guide is for you. 

Let’s begin!

Understanding the New Zealand Education System

New Zealand presents compelling reasons for international students to pursue their studies within its borders.

It offers a highly supportive environment that extends beyond the classroom. The government is the first to implement a holistic code of conduct that includes physical and mental health support for international students at school. 

The New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF) is a credible mechanism for evaluating the quality and standard of qualifications issued by national institutions promoting education.

Different stages of the New Zealand education system:

Let’s explore the education system in New Zealand, delving into its tiers, framework, and significant milestones that mark a student’s educational path.



Early Childhood

  • Children aged 0-5 have no compulsory education, but many attend Kindergarten before age 5.
  • Kindergartens are cost-effective, with parents eligible for 20 hours of weekly childcare subsidies.
  • Enrollment typically starts at 2 years old, with a gradual transition to full-day attendance from 3-4 years old.

Primary School

  • Enrollment occurs between ages 5-6, with formal education compulsory from age six.
  • The first year, ‘new entrance’, lasts until the end of the school year in December.
  • Years 1-8 form the primary school phase, spanning ages 5-12, with options for Intermediate Schools in Years 8-12.

Intermediate School

  • Less common now, intermediates prepare students for high school (Years 8-12).
  • Some primary schools offer intermediate years or have merged with local intermediates.
  • Focuses on independence, new subjects, and navigating larger campuses.

Secondary School

  • Ages 13-18 (Years 9-13), with compulsory education until age 16 or Year 11.
  • Offers elective subjects from Years 9-10; compulsory subjects include PE, Maths, English, Science, and Social Studies.
  • Years 11-13 allow subject selection, with only English compulsory in Year 12 and no compulsory subjects in Year 13.
  • Typically, students have five subjects per day, with one study period in Year 13 and most studying six subjects.

Curriculum and assessment in the New Zealand education system

The New Zealand Curriculum focuses on the process of learning, which involves critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, and collaboration that is integrated through all levels.

Assessment techniques draw heavily towards formative assessment, which focuses mainly on feedback and steering students on their learning, and summative assessment, which evaluates student achievement in line with curriculum standards.

National Certificates of Educational Achievement (NCEA) are granted at varying levels (Levels 1-3) during secondary education. They acknowledge student proficiency in diverse subjects and enrich their cumulative qualifications.

Which Exams Are Required to Study in New Zealand Universities?

English Proficiency ExamsIELTSThe International English Language Testing System (IELTS) assesses the English language proficiency of non-native English speakers.
TOEFLThe Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) evaluates the ability to use and understand English academically.
Pearson Test of EnglishThe Pearson Test of English (PTE) Academic is a computer-based test that measures English language skills in listening, reading, speaking, and writing.
OETThe Occupational English Test (OET) assesses the English language skills of healthcare professionals.
Subject Specific AssessmentsGREThe Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is a standardized test required for many graduate school programs in various disciplines.
GMATThe Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is used for admissions to business schools and MBA programs.
UCATThe University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) is used for admissions to medical and dental schools.

Level of study: New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF)

The NZQF is a comprehensive system for assessing the caliber and standard of qualifications provided by educational institutions in New Zealand.

All qualifications listed on the NZQF carry a globally recognized assurance of quality.

The framework comprises 10 levels:

  • Levels 1-4 encompass the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), the primary qualification in secondary schools, and fundamental vocational training.
  • Levels 5-6 encompass sub-degree vocational certificates and diplomas.
  • Levels 7-10 encompass degrees, graduate, and postgraduate qualifications.

The NZQF study level indicates the degree of qualification advancement and is relevant for post-study work visas for international students in New Zealand.

Understanding Higher or tertiary education for international students

  • In New Zealand, eight universities are funded by the state.
  • 16 Institute of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs) merged into the Te Pūkenga —New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology (NIST). 
  • Roughly 550 Private Training Establishments (PTEs), including English language schools.

Cost of education in New Zealand:

In New Zealand, tertiary education is funded through a mix of government subsidies and student fees. Government funding for accredited courses is provided through tuition grants, calculated based on enrolled student numbers and course duration, and measured in equivalent full-time students (EFTS). 

Students enrolled in these courses can avail of student loans from external sources to help cover tuition fees and living expenses.

Tuition fees for international students depend on the course type, the institution, and the number of years they will spend there. The table below lists the fees that are charged in New Zealand Dollars (NZD).

Degree TypeFees
Bachelor’s degree$20,000 to $40,000 (varies by subject)
Postgraduate degree$20,000 to $45,000 (varies by subject)
PhDs$6,500 to $7,500 per year (for most subjects)
Diplomas/CertificatesVaries: For instance, you can opt for a one-term New Zealand Certificate in Engineering, priced at $23,376, or pursue a one-year Diploma in Computing, costing $46,752.

Top Universities in New Zealand

All of New Zealand’s universities are evenly distributed between the two primary islands comprising New Zealand:

On the North Island (Te Ika-a-Maui), you’ll find:

  •  AUT University
  • The University of Auckland
  • Massey University
  • Victoria University of Wellington
  • Waikato University.

On the South Island (Te Waipounamu), you’ll find:

  •  The University of Canterbury
  • University of Otago
  • Lincoln University.


Hence, the carefully crafted New Zealand Education System prioritizes delivering top-notch education, fostering individual interests and skills, and emphasizing skill development and lifelong learning. 

If you’re considering higher education in New Zealand, our Nomad Credit counselors are ready to assist you every step of the way through the admission process to your desired university, ensuring your application stands out and leads to successful acceptance. Register now for a complimentary counseling session with us!

Frequently Asked Questions

What distinguishes the New Zealand education system?

The New Zealand education system stands out for its student-centered approach, offering continuous learning progression and flexibility. Students advance each year, building on their previous learning to shape their educational journey along a chosen pathway.

Is New Zealand’s educational system reputable?

Yes, New Zealand boasts one of the world’s finest and most diverse education systems. It upholds exceptional literacy standards and consistently achieves high rankings on a global scale.

Is education free in New Zealand?

Education at state schools in New Zealand is tuition-free. However, students considering education in New Zealand should budget for expenses such as school uniforms, stationery, and extracurricular activities.

How can I enhance my application to top universities?

To enhance your competitiveness with the top universities, commit your energy to excellent academic performance, overcome the standard test, write a persuasive personal statement, and collect big references from supporters. You can also get assistance from study abroad experts from Nomad Credit for a perfect application. 

What percentage is typically required to study in New Zealand?

New Zealand university applicants usually focus on getting grades of around 65% to 75% as a prerequisite for obtaining a degree.

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