Understanding the New Zealand Education System | AJV Global

Understanding the New Zealand Education System

by AJV Global
Published on: 29/Nov/2021
New Zealand’s education system is internationally recognized for its superior standards. Who sets these standards? How are they monitored?


New Zealand is one of the most popular study locations in the world. It boasts of a robust education system offering internationally accredited qualifications. New Zealand’s education system follows a modern pedagogy focused on skill development, research, and innovation. 

In New Zealand, 79% of adults aged 25-64* have completed upper secondary education, above the OECD average of 78%*. In terms of the quality of its educational system, the average student scored 506* in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This score is higher than the OECD average of 486*.  

Before we learn about the different types of education systems and levels, let’s peep into the agencies that administer, assess and monitor the education system. 

The Quality Checker

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) is the government agency responsible for New Zealand and overseas educational assessment, and qualifications. They oversee the quality certification of non-university tertiary training providers and administer the National Certificates of Educational Achievement (NCEAs) for secondary school students. It is responsible for administering the New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF) and establishing the criteria that assure the quality of the credentials listed on the framework. 

New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF)

The NZQF was one of the world's first frameworks. New Zealand's educational system revolves around it. All qualifications registered on the NZQF, including secondary and tertiary, come with a quality assurance that is recognized and trusted globally.

The Three Levels of The Education System

New Zealand's education system has three levels:

  1. early childhood education: from birth to school entry age
  2. primary and secondary education: from 5–19 years of age 
  3. further education: higher and vocational education.

Early Childhood Education (ECE)

ECE is the first level of education. ECE can be ‘teacher-led, 'whānau-led' or ‘parent-led. ‘Teacher-led’ means 50% certified and registered ECE teachers educate the children ‘Whānau-led' or 'parent-led 'means parents, whānau or caregivers are involved in educating and caring for the children. 

Primary and secondary education

The education system for schools is made up of 13 Year levels. Schooling is compulsory from age 6–16. Children of a New Zealand citizen or a permanent resident between the ages of 5 and 19 are exempted from fees at state schools. These schools are government-owned and funded. Primary education starts at Year 1 and goes to Year 8 (around 5–12 years of age). Secondary education goes from Year 9 to Year 13 (around 13–17 years of age). 

Tertiary Education

Students who desire to continue their education after secondary school have a variety of study options. 

Tertiary Education Providers

The common education providers for tertiary education include universities, institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs), and private training establishments (PTEs). 

Institutes of technology and Polytechnics  (ITP)

From introductory studies to degrees, institutes of technology and polytechnics provide professional and vocational education and training. They give training and certification in various industries, for example, agriculture, building, and construction, motor trade. They are supported by both the government and the private sector.

Private training establishments (PTEs)

PTE offers specific occupational courses at the certificate and diploma levels (for example, travel and tourism). They have strong connections with employers. They are not government-funded, however, the New Zealand government has approved and listed all of the qualifications they offer on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework.


New Zealand has eight state-funded universities. Each university offers degrees in a wide range of areas and specializes in professional degrees. All of the universities are well-known internationally and are all ranked in the top 3% in the world. They collaborate on research, teaching, and development programmes with universities in other countries.

Understanding the New Zealand Education Qualification Levels

The New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF) is divided into ten levels and encompasses a wide range of qualifications from certificates to PhD degrees. The levels are determined by the degree of difficulty of the learning. The simplest certificate is a level 1.



Level 1-4


Level 5-6

Certificate, Diploma

Level 7

Graduate Certificate, Graduate Diploma, Diploma, Bachelor's Degree

Level 8

Postgraduate Certificate, Postgraduate Diploma, Bachelor Honours Degree

Level 9

Master's Degree

Level 10

Doctoral Degree (PhD)

The Credit System Explained

Students must complete a certain amount of credits at each level of qualification. The credit value corresponds to the amount of learning in the qualification; one credit equals ten notional hours of learning. In a typical year, a full-time student can finish 120 credits of learning.

National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA)

The National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is the national senior secondary school qualification. Employers recognize NCEA and other national certifications, while universities and polytechnics utilize them as a criterion for admission. NCEA is widely acknowledged internationally, especially by institutions. 

Deciding on your study course

Hope this article has given you brief insights into New Zealand’s education system. You can now decide on the qualification and level of study to pursue. Choosing the right course is critical to your career. We can help you to identify courses and shortlist the ones that are right for you. We will also assist you in obtaining the ‘Offer of Place’, student visa, and onshore support.

*Source: OECD

Partner / Author: AJV Global

AJV Global is a New Zealand based ENZ-recognized company. We are an end-to-end education & migration company, with a highly qualified team of advisers licensed by the New Zealand Immigration Advisers Authority and former immigration officers.

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