The current situation for universities

The university year has started again, but the financial situation for many of the universities in New Zealand is quite difficult. Although enrolments this year are looking better than in the last two years, the tertiary sector is under significant pressure.

There are several reasons for this situation. Firstly, before the Covid19 pandemic, many international students came to New Zealand, but when the borders closed in 2020, new students could not enter the country. As a result, the number of international tertiary students decreased by 23% between 2020 and 2021. In addition, although domestic enrolments increased by 9% in that period, they then fell by 4.1% in 2022. Some universities had a further decrease in domestic enrolments in 2023. At the same time, inflation in New Zealand is high and costs are increasing, but funding from the government has not increased at the same rate as inflation.

Consequently, last year three universities had to look at ways to save money. A total of almost 600 jobs and some courses were cut at Otago University, Victoria University of Wellington, and Massey University in 2023. This year, Massey University has said they may need to make further job cuts so that they can reduce their deficit. Other universities face similar but less serious financial problems. Some people now say that the way universities are funded needs to change, but it is not yet clear what the government plans to do about tertiary funding.

Polytechnics also face an uncertain time at the moment. The previous Labour government merged them into a national institution called Te Pūkenga, but the new government is disestablishing that. The individual polytechnics will be separate again but exactly how they will operate is unclear.


enrolments – the number of people who have arranged to join a university or school

tertiary – third level of education, after primary and secondary schools. Tertiary education is at a university or polytechnic

domestic – relating to within a country. Domestic enrolments are students who are New Zealand citizens or permanent residents.

deficit – when the amount of money spent is greater than the amount of money earned

merge – join together to make a single thing

disestablish – dis- means not or the opposite of, so disestablish means to end something that was established