Higher Education in New Zealand

Arcadia believes it is critical to be prepared for immersion in the New Zealand educational system by understanding some of its important characteristics. 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.  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.


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 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 Māori teaching and research institutions that are modeled on an ancient Māori institution of higher learning 'the whare wananga'.

Wananga provide tertiary education to all iwi (tribes) and people wishing to study in a uniquely Māori environment that is administered according to tikanga Māori (Māori customs). There is a strong emphasis on use of Māori 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.

Important Items to Note:

  • The New Zealand academic year reflects the order of the seasons in the southern hemisphere. The year begins in early autumn (February) and runs until the beginning of summer (in early December). There are two semesters; February to June, and July through November. Each semester usually includes a week or ten days' break at about its mid-point.

Arcadia University's Role

The role of Arcadia University The College of Global Studies will be to help and support you throughout the academic process.

  • At the beginning of your overseas experience our staff will help to orient and advise you.
  • We will put you in touch with individuals on the host campus who will help you to register in the classes you elect to take. We will provide you with guidance concerning the academic calendar and credits, requiring that you register for a full academic load and that you do not overload or underload without special permission. (Such permission must come not only from the host institution but also from your home institution and from the Arcadia University College of Global Studies.)
  • We will facilitate communication between you and your home school in an attempt to resolve any course or credit conflicts that may arise during the registration process. Members of our staff will visit you on campus from time to time not only to check on your academic enrollment but to ask how you're doing in general. If there are difficulties, we encourage you to reach out to us, bring them to our attention and let us help you resolve them.
  • We acknowledge responsibility to several parties in the study abroad process. We have a responsibility to you, our student, to be certain that you are given the educational opportunity which you expect to find overseas and to provide you with the opportunity to succeed academically. We have an obligation to your family to do everything within reason to assure your safety and well-being. We have an obligation to your home school to receive your credits and grades from the host institution and to "translate" and report them honestly.
  • We must also notify your home school of situations of which we become aware which may affect the credit that you will be likely to transfer back from a study abroad experience. That way, we try to avoid having anyone surprise anyone else at the end of a program.
  • Finally, we have an obligation to get out of your way and give you an opportunity to gain everything possible from your study abroad experience.
  • At orientation, you will be required to sign a Arcadia University academic contract. This contract states your responsibilities as a Arcadia program student. If you have any questions about it, please discuss them with your program manager before leaving this country.

Arcadia University and its overseas staff serve as a safety net, a point of contact. We will provide a good deal of advice and guidance. We are there for you to call on when you need us. It is you, however, you who's undergoing this study abroad experience. We hope it will be all you expect.