Education System in New Zealand: Types of Schools & Universities

Updated on 09 November, 2023

Shivangi Mishra

Shivangi Mishra

Sr. Content Editor

What makes an education system impressive? The education system of New Zealand mirrors a distinctive and inclusive society, embracing a variety of abilities, religious perspectives, ethnic backgrounds, income levels, and educational philosophies. All these qualities make it an impressive education system. Students are encouraged to collaborate, think critically, and foster creativity while receiving a high-caliber education

Characteristics of New Zealand Educational System 

Continuous Progression: 

The system ensures that students make consistent progress every year.

Pathway Choices: 

Learning at each level serves as the building block for the next steps along a student's chosen educational path.

Vocational Learning: 

In senior secondary education, students have the opportunity to focus on vocational learning, which can assist them in transitioning into employment or pursuing further education through various programs and institutions.

Youth Guarantee Courses: 

These offer students between the ages of 16 and 19 the chance to pursue NCEA Level 1-3 or Level 1–3 certificates at tertiary institutions without any tuition fees. Typically, these courses have a vocational emphasis.


 New Zealand is home to three wānanga, which are state-owned institutions dedicated to Māori education and research. They adhere to āhuatanga Māori (Māori tradition) and Tikanga Māori (Māori customs) in their teaching methodologies. These institutions provide a range of qualifications, including certificates, diplomas, and degrees, with some offering specialized programs at the doctoral level.

University Level: 

New Zealand boasts eight publicly funded universities, each providing a wide array of degree programs across various subjects and excelling in specialized professional fields.


The New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF) serves as a mechanism for recognizing the caliber and tier of qualifications provided by educational institutions in New Zealand.

8.All qualifications featured within the NZQF are accompanied by a globally respected quality assurance. The NZQF comprises 10 tiers:

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

Primary and Secondary Schools

The education levels in New Zealand operate in three primary ways: Early Childhood Education, Primary and Secondary Education, and Higher Education. Children typically commence formal education around the age of 5, embarking on a 13-year educational journey. The options include:

  1. Public schools, which receive funding from the government.
  2. Kura Kaupapa Māori schools, where students receive instruction in the Māori language for at least 51 percent of their curriculum subjects.
  3. Private schools, where families cover tuition fees determined by the school.

Primary Education 

  • The primary education system in New Zealand typically spans from year 0 or 1 (starting at age 5) to either year 6 or year 8, depending on the specific school.
  • Intermediate Education: Intermediate schools cater to students in years 7 and 8 when their primary school doesn't extend to these levels.
  • The framework of elementary education in New Zealand is referred to as 'The New Zealand Curriculum,' with a Māori language version known as 'Te Marautanga o Aotearoa.'"

Secondary Education 

  • Secondary education spans from Year 9, typically starting around the ages of 12 to 14, and continues through Year 13, approximately when students are aged 16 to 18. In Year 11, students usually commence their journey towards the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) and progress through to Level 3 by Year 13.
  • The NCEA comprises three levels, namely levels 1, 2, and 3, corresponding to the initial three tiers of the New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF). Progression through the NZQF levels involves students achieving a specific number of credits at each level.

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New Zealand Higher Education System

This level covers higher and vocational education, providing advanced opportunities for continued learning. All the universities enjoy strong international recognition. 

Types of Higher Educational Institutes



New Zealand is home to a total of eight distinguished universities that provide high-quality education to both local and international students. All eight universities in New Zealand hold rankings within the top 3% globally.They collaborate with universities abroad on research and educational initiatives, and they also engage with the New Zealand and global business sectors for research and development endeavors.


New Zealand has a network of 24 polytechnics, spanning from smaller institutions in rural regions to larger ones in urban areas. These institutes of technology provide higher education through vocational and professional courses, emphasizing a practical approach over theoretical methods.


Colleges of Education are designed to train teachers, offering programs for primary, secondary, and higher education, including degree programs. New Zealand has two such colleges, located in Christchurch and Dunedin.


Wananga institutions primarily cater to indigenous New Zealanders, including the Kiwi people, and those interested in studying within a Maori cultural context. New Zealand has a total of three Wananga institutions, which are publicly funded and engage in research conducted by Maori students.

Tertiary Institutions: 

In New Zealand, there are a total of nine private tertiary institutions that offer higher education across various fields, including tourism, English, international studies, and Bible studies. These institutions attract a significant number of international students and maintain small class sizes.

Grading System of New Zealand for Higher Education

GradesGPA valueEquivalent PercentageDescription
A+990-100Outstanding performance
A885-89Excellent performance
A-780-84Excellent performance in most respects
B+675-79Very good performance
B570-74Good performance
B-465-69Good performance overall, but some weakness
C+360-64Satisfactory to good performance
C255-59Satisfactory performance
C-150-54Adequate evidence of learning
D040-49Poor performance overall, some evidence of learning, Fail

Read more about study in New Zealand:


Is the education system tough in New Zealand?

The education structure in New Zealand offers both practical and theoretical knowledge. The government has robust quality assurance mechanisms in place to guarantee top-notch education, whether it's in the public or private sector, at all educational levels.

How is the education system in New Zealand ranked globally?

New Zealand's education system has consistently been recognized as one of the best globally, securing the eighth position out of 40 countries in The Learning Curve global education report, published by Pearson.

What are the advantages of pursuing education in New Zealand?

New Zealand's eight universities rank in the top 3% globally. They provide students with the encouragement to solve problems, collaborate, create, and innovate, ensuring a high-quality education to help them achieve their objectives.

Shivangi Mishra

Sr. Content Editor

She is an experienced writer and journalist who has extensively covered the education sector in India and Abroad. Now helping Indian aspirants realise their foreign education dream by providing them with relevant content and information through upGrad Abroad. Amateur traveller, loves to read Architectural Digest!

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