Understanding the New Zealand education system
What can you study in New Zealand? Find out more about the New Zealand education system, including qualifications, study levels and how to work here after studying.
If you’re planning to study overseas, it’s important to know you’ll gain a qualification that will set you up for a great job or for further study.
New Zealand is world-ranked at giving students the skills, knowledge and experience for a successful future. Our qualifications are quality assured by the government, making them globally respected and recognised.
So if you’re thinking about studying here, take a look at our New Zealand Education Journey map to see where you could join our education system, and read more about the different levels below.
- Primary and intermediate school
- Secondary school
- Tertiary study
- English language study and foundation programmes
- NZQF - qualification levels
- Staying to work after study
- Choosing what to study
No matter what level of study you’re ready for, New Zealand has high-quality, government-monitored education providers throughout the country.
Primary and intermediate school
New Zealand’s personalised, student-centred way of learning encourages school students to think critically and creatively, often working in teams to solve problems.
Secondary schools (also known as high schools or colleges) are for ages 13-18 (Years 9-13). Students can choose from a wide range of subjects; many schools have options as diverse as marine studies, photography or Earth and space science.
NCEA and other secondary school qualifications
NCEA is used for selection by tertiary institutions in New Zealand. It’s also accepted by many universities and other institutions around the world.
Some secondary schools also offer the Cambridge International Exams or the International Baccalaureate.
If you’re interested in tertiary study in New Zealand, your options include universities, institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs) which have been unified into the Te Pūkenga - New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology (NZIST), and private training establishments (PTEs).
Many offer flexible study options, making it easier to find a course or programme to suit your goals and budget.
Te Pukenga – NZ Institute of Skills and Technology
ITPs generally offer job-specific training for specific careers, giving you the chance to gain hands-on skills and practical experience.
Many also have full degree programmes, right up to PhD level.
ITPs are state-funded and aim to give you the skills and qualifications that will be needed by employers in the future.
Private Training Establishments (PTEs)
While PTEs usually offer certificates and diplomas, some larger PTEs also offer degrees.
PTEs are not state-funded but all the qualifications they offer are approved by the New Zealand government and listed on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework.
English language study and foundation programmes
If English is your second language, New Zealand has lots of options to help you improve your ability to read, write, speak and listen in English.
English language schools offer flexible courses all year round. Universities and ITPs run pathway programmes to help students meet the English language requirements of their courses.
Foundation programmes provide a pathway between secondary school and tertiary study. They can help you improve your English to prepare you for bachelor’s degree study.
NZQF - qualification levels
The 10 levels of the NZQF cover a wide range of qualifications, from the secondary school qualification NCEA at levels 1-3 up to doctoral degrees at level 10.
When you’re considering a programme or course in New Zealand, you should be able to see what level on the NZQF you’d achieve when you graduate, as well as the type of qualification.
The NZQF levels are:
Staying to work after studying
You’ll need to have gained a qualification at level 4 or higher to qualify for a post-study work visa.
If you study at levels 4 to 6, you can apply for a one-year post-study work visa. You may be able to apply for a two-year post-study work visa, if you complete your study outside of Auckland before the end of 2021.
If you study at level 7 or above, you can apply for a three-year post-study work visa.
Choosing what and how you study
Now that you have an idea of what level you might study at, the next step is to find a programme in New Zealand that suits you. Then you can look at how you intend to study; from studying in New Zealand, to online study or starting your studies at home with a global pathway course.
Explore study options
About the contributors
Linley Boniface is a contract writer for Education New Zealand. She is based in Wellington, her favourite city in New Zealand. A former journalist, Linley spent a year in Montreal, Canada, as a secondary school student.