Record number of degrees in 2013

Potentially the result of rapidly declining postgraduate study

The Government released figures showing a 20 per cent increase in undergraduate degree qualifications in 2013, compared to those in 2008. According to the results, 25,800 New Zealand students graduated from their bachelor degrees in 2013. In 2008, 20,800 were completed. Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce credits this climb to “the Government’s focus on achieving results rather than just “bums on seats.” It was also found that the total number of qualifications achieved in 2013 by all students, including international students, rose to a high of 162,000.

The figures also showed a significant growth in Māori and Pasifika graduates. In 2008, 1,960 Maori and Pacifika students completed bachelor degrees and this jumped to 3,180 last year. “These are very significant improvements for Māori and Pasifika that are reflected across the full spectrum of tertiary study,” Mr Joyce says. “It shows our reforms across the tertiary sector are steadily delivering much better results for Māori and Pasifika.” At Otago the percentage of Maori students has risen by 0.5 per cent from 2009 to 2013, and Pacific Islanders by 0.2 per cent.

Despite Joyce claiming the rise in qualification numbers was due to National’s shift to being “results” focused, the Student Loan Scheme Act which was rolled out part way through 2011 cannot predominantly take credit for this rise. The majority of students who graduated in 2013 began their three-year, four-year or double degrees prior to the scheme being implemented. The rise could also be attributed to the end of allowances for postgraduate students as well as the EFTS cut off, causing students to graduate with bachelor’s degree rather than continuing postgraduate study.

Joyce told Critic, “I think the lift in the number of graduates is due to policy changes we have made for both providers and students. The lifetime limit on student loan access and the new rule that you must pass at least half your courses over a two year period will help encourage students to complete their degrees more quickly.

“Performance-linked funding for providers has probably had the bigger impact but both have been positive. I’d note that stopping access to student allowances for post-graduate students has had little or no effect on numbers studying at post-graduate level to date.”

Limiting age through loans and allowances caused enrolments by students 25 and older to drop at every qualification level between 2012-2013, it was found by the Ministry of Education. While there was a continual increase in international students, domestic students have fallen since 2010. University of Otago statistics, despite remaining somewhat consistent across the board, show a drop of nearly half of honours students from 2009 to 2013.

Joyce maintains that, “the Government is committed to increasing achievement in the tertiary sector. Having more people achieving tertiary qualifications means a more highly skilled labour market.”
This article first appeared in Issue 15, 2014.
Posted 6:52pm Sunday 13th July 2014 by Anna Whyte.