High tertiary enrolment despite low financial rewards

Low financial returns are not putting young New Zealanders off tertiary education. The latest OECD Education at a Glance report shows graduation rates from tertiary education are well above the OECD average but that the earnings premium from the extra study is lower.

The report says, based on 2011 graduation figures, that 55% of young New Zealanders can expect to gain a university education – well above the OECD average of 39%. A further 35% are expected to obtain a vocational qualification, against the OECD average of 14%.

But, unlike most OECD countries, gender differences have favoured New Zealand women at this level of education across the generations. In 2011, among the older generation, of 55- to 64-year-olds, men’s tertiary attainment rate was 29%, eight percentage points lower than that of women (at 37%). For younger adults, of 25-34, the difference was even larger, with 41% of men attaining tertiary education versus 51% of women.

But the report notes New Zealanders with a tertiary education do not enjoy a much greater income than those with only an upper secondary qualification. In fact, the advantage is just 18%, compared to the OECD average of 57%.

New Zealand’s high proportion of international students attracts the OECD’s attention; they account for 16% of all enrolments, the fourth highest percentage in the OECD and well above the average of 7%.

Yet the country’s annual per-student spending on tertiary education, at US$10,418, is well below the OECD average of US$13,528.