New Zealand

Why choose New Zealand as a possible study destination?

  • It’s clean and green: in part thanks to its location in the South Pacific, it’s one of the world’s least polluted countries.
  • New Zealand is unique in that, all its universities are in the top 500 worldwide.
  • According to the Global Peace Index 2009, New Zealand is the most peaceful country in the world.
  • People in New Zealand enjoy a healthy, outdoor lifestyle with a huge range of activities on offer year-round: skiing, snowboarding, white water rafting, sea kayaking, hiking, swimming in the sea, surfing…
  • The climate is very pleasant, without extremes of heat or cold.
  • The way of life is friendly and informal, and much less bureaucratic than that of many other countries.
  • There’s a great sense of spaciousness and room to move around.
  • The main cities offer all the services you’d expect – but the beaches are just down the road!
  • New Zealand education has a reputation for being inclusive and participatory; it also has a well-established tradition of welcoming international students.

We have visited and inspected the facilities at Auckland University, Victoria University of Wellington, Canterbury University (Christchurch) and Otago University (Dunedin). Subject to availability, we can arrange accommodation and teaching facilities at any of these universities. We have also discussed our programmes with the international offices at most of these universities, and certain others.

You can also see some the main sights of New Zealand, including Rotorua and Queenstown.

Population: 4.5 million

Capital: Wellington

Largest cities: Auckland, Christchurch, Hamilton, Dunedin

Divided into: North Island and South Island (but they are not separate states or provinces – there’s one government for the whole country)

New Zealand is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations for people who are looking for a different kind of environment.  The country is often seen as ideal for those who love nature and a healthy, outdoor lifestyle.

But New Zealand is not just volcanoes and glaciers, beaches and forests.  It has its own unique culture created out of the traditions of the indigenous Maori people and the many others who have settled there over the past 200 years.  It has also become a popular destination in recent years for international students.  Although it only has eight universities, between them they offer a great range of programmes, and they all have quite large numbers of students from overseas.

KE offers study tours to New Zealand so students can learn about a good selection of the universities and also get a feel for the special character of this country.

Although it’s not a very big country, New Zealand has quite a wide range of climate types.  But generally, extremes of heat and cold are rare, and there are a lot of very pleasant sunny days.

In the summer, you can expect daytime temperatures of around 20-25 degrees.  Hotter days do occur from time to time, and in the South Island a few days can be quite chilly, even in the middle of summer; northern parts of the North Island are more consistently warm, but they can sometimes be rather humid.  Rainfall is possible, but most days are dry, and if it does rain, it usually doesn’t last for very long.  Most of the time, there is a fresh breeze blowing in from the sea.

Bring summer clothes, but also a jumper and a light jacket – and something for the rain, just in case.  (Most buildings in New Zealand do not have air conditioning.)

Although NZ is very stable and secure, you should still look after your possessions carefully, as it is not completely free from crime.

During the daytime, you can walk around quite comfortably in all the places we visit, including the big cities.  After dark, a little more caution may be sensible.  We suggest that students of all ages go around in pairs or small groups at all times.  Take care with possessions, and don’t leave wallets and purses in back pockets or other places where they can easily be seen.  Leave valuables at the centre for safekeeping, and only take small amounts of cash with you.

Although New Zealand is very stable politically, it’s not very stable geologically!  It’s one of many regions in the world where there is a potential threat from volcanic activity and earthquakes.  In 2011, parts of the city of Christchurch were badly damaged in a number of earthquakes.  It’s believed that the risk of another major earthquake in this series in Christchurch is now much reduced.

New Zealand offers a wide range of opportunities to international students, with nearly all of its institutions actively recruiting students from other countries. In New Zealand, the term ‘tertiary level’ covers ‘higher education’ (normally focused on a degree) and ‘further education’; it covers all the opportunities available to students over the age of 18.

Types of institution

International students in New Zealand can apply to universities, polytechnics or private training establishments (PTEs).

New Zealand has eight universities; there are no private universities – they are all state-funded. A unique feature of New Zealand universities is that all eight are in the world’s top 500 (QS rankings – 2013)! So regardless of the university at which you study, you can be confident that it will provide a solid education and a worthwhile qualification with international recognition.

The universities are:

  • The University of Auckland
  • Massey University
  • The Auckland University of Technology (AUT)
  • The University of Waikato
  • Victoria University of Wellington (VUW)
  • The University of Canterbury
  • Lincoln University
  • The University of Otago

In addition to the universities, there are 20 polytechnics – again, all state-funded. These establishments offer a wide range of largely vocational and practical subjects. They lead to a variety of certificates and diplomas; some polytechnics also offer degree programmes. Even if they do not offer degrees, it’s often possible to move from a diploma course to an undergraduate programme elsewhere.

Private training establishments (PTEs) offer courses in a wide range of subjects, most of them vocational. New Zealand has around 800 PTEs (which include language schools). All of them are inspected by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA). Some of them are very good and are well-regarded, and may even offer programmes at degree level; others offer programmes which may be accepted within New Zealand, but which may not have quite the same recognition internationally.

Our focus at KE is on introducing students to and preparing them for university education.

Entry levels

In assessing the suitability of international students for university, admissions staff consider two key factors: (i) academic record and (ii) level of English.

In assessing students’ academic suitability, the universities generally try to equate the overseas qualification against New Zealand qualifications.

In New Zealand, academically-focused students generally complete their high school careers at the age of 18 and obtain a qualification known as NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement). This qualification is offered at different levels; success at Level 3, generally achieved at the age of 18, qualifies students for entry to university.

Schools in New Zealand do not have to offer NCEA, and in fact quite a number offer CIE (Cambridge International Examinations – or just ‘Cambridge’ for short). These British-based examinations are offered at various levels, but those relevant to university study are A Levels and AS levels. A few schools offer the International Baccalaureate (IB), which is more closely aligned to the education systems of continental Europe.

Universities in New Zealand recognise all these examinations and try to equate the possible results that students could obtain in them. They then try to equate qualifications obtained at schools in other countries against the ones commonly obtained in New Zealand. In some cases, they are regarded as being of equal value; but not always. The universities will be happy to provide guidance here.

As evidence of English language abilities, the universities’ preferred examination is IELTS. IELTS results come in the form of bands, and different bands will be required depending on the course chosen. Other evidence of English language ability may also be accepted.

In most cases, universities accept students on the basis of their completed application form and evidence of their qualifications. They don’t generally interview prospective students.


New Zealand qualifications are assessed against the New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF), and there are 10 levels, ranging from the most basic certificate, usually in one particular skill area (level 1), up to PhD (level 10).

University programmes

Some international students will achieve direct entry into an undergraduate programme. In other cases, universities will require either one year’s study at a recognised university in the student’s own country, or they will require students to take a one-year foundation programme.

A foundation programme combines introductions to specific academic programmes with higher-level English language courses and general work on study skills. Students who obtain satisfactory results in their academic programmes can generally proceed to undergraduate programmes, usually, though not necessarily, at the same university.

Students with a strong academic background and a good level of English may join an undergraduate programme.  This means that they are starting a programme which will in most cases lead to a Bachelor’s Degree – possibly a BA (Bachelor of Arts), or BSc (Bachelor of Science).  Most undergraduate programmes run for three years. In contrast to degree programmes in the UK, most New Zealand undergraduate programmes do not lead to Honours degrees – it’s normally necessary to undertake further study to obtain Honours. To do this, students generally have to undertake some substantial independent research. A Bachelor’s degree is assessed at level 7 on the AQF, an Honours degree at level 8.

Students who have already graduated in their own country may be considered for a higher degree in New Zealand such as an MA (Master of Arts – level 9), or a PhD (Doctorate – level 10) – though there are a number of other postgraduate options such as MBA and MPhil.  Very often an MA is obtained on the way to obtaining an even higher qualification.  Most higher degrees involve a great deal of independent study, and a PhD is focused entirely on research in a new field.

Please note that universities decide themselves on the candidates they will accept.  No qualification is an automatic passport to entry.

Domestic and international students

All New Zealand universities accept both domestic and international students.

Domestic students are those from New Zealand.  All students pay tuition fees, though tuition fees for international students are higher and generally range from about NZ$21,000 to 30,000 p.a. Fees may be higher than this for engineering, and will be significantly higher for medicine (up to NZ$70,000 p.a.). Auckland University is generally regarded as the most prestigious university in New Zealand, and fees there are usually a little higher than at other universities. Remember that accommodation and other living costs have to be added on to these fees. Still, in most cases, the total cost of tertiary-level study in New Zealand tends to be somewhat lower than it is in other English-speaking countries.

International students wishing to study in New Zealand will need to obtain a student visa. This is generally not hard to obtain in the case of bona fide students who have obtained an offer to study at a recognised institution, though it is important to demonstrate an ability to pay the fees for the whole period of study and also meet living expenses.

Student visas for tertiary-level study permit some part-time work, and the conditions are quite generous. The visa allows 20 hours of work per week during term-time and unlimited work during vacations between sessions. An additional bonus is that students who graduate from New Zealand universities can apply for a Post-Study Work Visa for 12 months; and beyond that, if employment is found, you can apply for a visa under Study to Work for 2 or 3 years; beyond that, there are routes to obtain permanent residence. (This information is believed to be correct at the time of writing, but should be checked with New Zealand immigration authorities; rules can change at any time.)


International students can generally apply to study any of the subjects on offer at universities. However, some are harder to get into than others.  What the universities themselves tend to tell us is this:

  1. Very few places are available for medicine, which is highly competitive.
  2. Places are also limited for law.  (And students should only consider law if they have a really high level of English.)
  3. They would welcome more applications for science and engineering, also for arts, languages and social studies.
  4. Most of the universities offer a huge range of courses, and it would be good to see more international students considering some of the newer and more innovative courses which are often more closely linked to the expected demands of the future.
  5. Business studies is over-subscribed.  A number of universities have commented that they possibly have too many Chinese students taking business studies courses, and would be delighted to see more Chinese students applying for other disciplines.

If universities are actively seeking applicants for particular subjects, they may be less demanding in their expectations.