Section 2: Education pathways

 The gap between the average income of people with no educational qualifications and those with either a secondary school qualification or a post-secondary qualification has increased over the last 25 or so years, and is likely to continue to do so10.

The education system, including industry training, has a central role in enabling Pacifi c peoples to gain the skills and knowledge required to enter high-skilled occupations with high future demand. Higher education is closely linked to income and general wellbeing, as well as labour productivity11.

Of all groups, Pacific peoples have the smallest proportion with degrees or higher qualifications and the largest proportion with no qualifications at all. However, this has improved significantly between 1986 and 2006, as figure 2 shows:

Figure 2 Percentage of Pacific peoples with no qualifications from 1986 to 2006.

What is required for high-skilled, high-growth employment?  

Literacy and numeracy  

Strong literacy and numeracy skills are a prerequisite for effective participation in higher education, most employment, and wider society. Low levels of literacy and numeracy not only reduce Pacific peoples’ education and work options, but also affect their families and children. The wider effects are not only from lower family income, but can also contribute to intergenerational disadvantage in terms of education, health and employment outcomes12.

Positive trends

The 2008 National Educational Monitoring Project (NEMP)13 results for Reading and Speaking show that over the last eight years, the significant disparities between Pākehā and Pacific students have reduced a little for Year 4 students (aged 8) but the gap has stayed the same or increased for Year 8 students.

Concerning trends

In 2006, the overall literacy and numeracy of the adult Pacific population was lower than that of other ethnic groups. Pacific women had slightly higher skills than Pacific men.

While older Pacific people tended to have lower literacy than young people, it is not just a generational issue that will resolve itself with time. In 2006, Pacific adults aged 25 to 34 had substantially higher skills than those aged 16 to 24, as well as older Pacific adults14.

Success at school  

To enter the high-growth, high-paid sectors generally requires degrees, and often post-graduate-level study. Before this becomes a possibility, the qualifications required for entry to higher education need to be obtained at school. Success at school is therefore a key prerequisite for Pacific peoples gaining higher-level qualifications. While it is possible to study school-level qualifications in tertiary education, this has many costs, including amassing student loans for low-level qualifications. Interestingly, Pacific students who go to high-decile schools are more likely to move to tertiary education than Pacific students with the same school achievement who go to low-decile schools15. This may be due to school, peer and family expectations and aspirations.

Positive trends

Since 2004, the proportion of Pacific school leavers achieving the standards required to enter university improved by 62 percent, compared to non-Pacific school leavers who had a 34 percent improvement over the same period16.

Concerning trends

Only 22.8 percent of all Pacific school leavers achieve the standards required to enter university compared with 48.3 percent of Pākehā students and 65.3 percent of Asian students.

The evidence is clear that the school system does not perform well for many Pacific students:

Subject and career choices  

The choice of subjects on entry to secondary school can open up or close off future education and career opportunities. To enter higher level tertiary education, students need to achieve NCEA level 3 with subjects that meet the requirements to enter university19. This often means that choices in Year 9 and 10 can close off future university pathways.

A recent report on student decision-making found the following:

  1. Decision-making is a complex process.
    Studies identified a considerable array of psychological and social decision-making processes and factors. These create a very complex process.

  2. Decision-making can be modelled.
    A number of models attempt to capture the decision-making process.

  3. Decision-making starts very early.
    Studies consistently found that decisions are made earlier than Years 11 and 12.

Data on the decision-making of 'non-traditional' students are both scarce and mixed. Socio-economic class and membership of 'at risk' groups are major influences on decision-making. Ethnicity and age have some influence, while data on gender suggest that this variable has little effect.20

Positive trends

The National Certificate of Educational Achievement and the National Qualifications Framework provide more choice for students, which enable them to follow their interests and meet their varied aspirations.

A range of alternative pathways is now available to better engage some students in learning 21.

Concerning trends

At higher levels, secondary schools are not ensuring that Pacific students make subject choices that open up future opportunities. Pacific students tend to choose less academic subjects for NCEA and fewer from the list of courses approved for university.

Of the students who studied for NCEA, Pacific students were least likely to gain the requirements to enter university through that study22. Only 22.8 percent of all Pacific students achieve the requirements to enter university compared with 48.3 percent of Pākehā students and 65.3 percent of Asian students. Pacific students also have a pattern of achieving NCEA level 2 in Year 13, which means they cannot complete level 3 NCEA while still at school. Pacific students are more likely than most to choose or be directed by teachers into NCEA courses that do not ultimately meet the requirements to enter university23. This then prevents them from moving into higher education. Pacific students are more likely than most to say that friends’ choices rather than their own career aspirations influenced their subject choices24.

Pacific students tend to move on to lower-level tertiary education or straight into the labour market. The Youth2000 study identified that Pacific students were less likely to be planning further training or education than Pākehā students.25 Three out of 10 Pacific young women and over one third of Pacific young men planned to start work or look for a job when they finished school.

The proportion of Pacific students moving from school to tertiary study has been and still is much lower than that of Asian and Pākehā students. This may have something to do with the previously buoyant labour market. Wylie et al (2009) reported that more Māori and Pacific 16-year-old students intended to go on to work than other groups. When Pacific school students do go on to tertiary education, they are much more likely to study for level 1 to 3 certificates than for diplomas or degrees. This largely reflects their level of school achievement26.

Influence of parents and families  

Parents have a range of powerful effects on students’post-school aspirations and decisions, both directly and indirectly27.

Parents’ own education level, occupation and income have an effect on the expectations of students and their families28. An increasing proportion of primary caregivers of school-aged children have at least a degree-level qualification, with Pacific primary caregivers showing the greatest increase since 2001, from 2.8 percent in 2001 to 5.3 percent in 2006. In 2006, 18 percent of Pākehā primary caregivers, 7.5 percent of Māori caregivers and 30 percent of Asian caregivers had degrees29.

The probability of attending university increases with parental income even when school achievement is taken into consideration. Likewise, the probability of attending university or polytechnic decreases as the income decreases. This is largely due to the level of information available and family expectations and experiences, or ‘social and personal fit’. When a family has prior experience of tertiary education, children are more likely to consider tertiary study and to be better able to navigate it.

When the social or personal fit is not comfortable, students are less likely to continue on to higher education30:

When a family has some experience of tertiary education, children are more likely to consider post-school options and are better able to navigate the complex application and enrolment procedures. Parents’own education is an important factor in this process, although friends and other family members, who have current or recent higher education experience, can become 'positive influencers'.

Family aspirations are as important as experiences. For example, with regard to Pacific students, the low rate of participation in Modern Apprenticeships suggests that this pathway is not given priority by Pacific students or their families, despite the fact that a significant proportion of Pacific adults participate in industry training.

Information sharing between students, families, schools and tertiary providers is the most effective way to influence study and career choices. The effect of mass marketing is over-rated and information obtained through interpersonal relationships is found to be more effective. Interpersonal information is most effective when constantly exchanged by students, families, schools and tertiary providers as active partners in the decision-making process.31

Participation in tertiary education  

In April 2009, Pacific students’participation in tertiary education increased from the previous year more than that of any other ethnic group: 14 percent for Pacific men and 12 percent for Pacific women32. Pacific women outnumbered men in tertiary education in 2008 (17,500 women compared to 12,300 men)33.

In 2007, the number of Pacific students continued to increase, with the greatest increases for those aged over 40 (16 percent) and 18 to 19 (11.2 percent).

Table 9: Numbers of Pacific students in tertiary education
  1997 2002 2005 2006 2007 2008
Age group            
Under 18 years 347 1,305 1,874 1,542 1,590 1,562
18 to 19 years 1,587 3,349 3,804 4,216 4,690 4,973
20 to 24 years 3,012 5,962 6,598 6,593 6,892 7,146
25 to 39 years 3,350 8,357 10,227 9,490 10,038 9,917
40 years and over 1,097 3,537 5,798 5,247 6,087 6,192

Appendix 1 has more information about Pacific students’tertiary
education choices from 1997 to 2007.

Benefits from higher levels of study

To gain the greatest benefits from tertiary education, people need to complete higher-level qualifications (diplomas and degrees), and complete them before they are 25 years of age.

Positive trends

Enrolments by under-25-year-olds at diploma or degree level have risen more strongly for Pacific students than for all students, an increase of 7.4 percent between 2002 and 2007 compared with 3.2 percent for other students.

Pacific students who complete their qualifications are more likely than others to progress to further study, and generally earn a higher income than non-Pacific people with the same qualification.

At master’s level, the number of Pacific students has continued to increase with 343 students in 2007, 202 of which were women. There were 361 Pacific masters students in 2008. At doctoral level, there were 118 Pacific students in 2007, 8.3 percent higher than in 2006. 71 of the doctoral students were women, compared with 47 men. In 2008, there were 122 Pacific doctoral students, an increase of 3.4 percent from 200734.

Concerning trends

Currently, Pacific students are over-represented in lower-level tertiary education rather than higher education.

Pacific peoples are about half as likely as the total population to achieve a higher-level qualification by the age of 25. They are only a third as likely to achieve a bachelor’s degree by this age.

Pacific students who begin study at 18 or 19 are less likely to complete a diploma or degree qualification than other students.

Benefits from certificates and diplomas35

Positive trends

Gaining an industry training qualification at level 4 or higher improves the earnings of men aged 15 to 24 years by 11 percent after 48 months.

For provider-based study, the fields with the highest median earnings for diplomas were building, education, sales and marketing, and engineering. These fields still had the highest earnings after three years, except for education which had slower growth.

Concerning trends

Gaining an industry training qualification at level 4 or higher improved the earnings of women only by two percent and the earnings of men over 24 by between one and four percent.

Gaining a qualification at level 3 (certificate) improved the average earnings of males but not females.

For provider-based study, performing arts, sports and recreation, visual arts and crafts, and personal services had lower median earnings both one year and three years’post-study.

Benefits from areas of study

In general, qualifications in the more vocationally specific or professionally associated fields of engineering, information technology, architecture and building, and health earned the most. Qualifications in science or management and commerce earned in the middle range, while qualifications in society and culture, creative arts, and food, hospitality and personal services earned less than in other fields. See appendix A for student choices.

Positive trends

Twenty-eight percent of Pacific students were enrolled in the field of management and commerce in 2007, compared to 20 percent of all domestic students.

Pacific students make up 6.1 percent of all students enrolled in society and culture. Of those enrolments, Pacific students made up 6.5 percent of law students (high pay) and 7.5 percent of sports and recreation students (high future demand) in 200836.

Concerning trends

Around 22 percent of Pacific students were enrolled in the area of society and culture at all levels in 2008. At bachelor level, 58 percent of Pacific students in 2008 studied in this field compared with 54 percent of all students, and a higher proportion of Pacific students were enrolled in the lower-paying areas. 11.5 percent of Pacific students were enrolled in the lower-earning areas of general society and culture, and only five percent were enrolled in the higher-earning economics areas (compared with 6.1 percent of Pacific enrolments in this field overall).

Fewer Pacific students than total domestic students were attracted to the fields of engineering (5.3 percent compared to 7.4 percent), the natural and physical sciences (3.4 percent compared to 6.1 percent), health (5.7 percent compared to 8.0 percent), and agriculture (1.1 percent compared to 4.1 percent).

Figure 3: Percentage of domestic bachelor’s degree graduates in 2006 by broad fi eld of specialisation and ethnic group

A 2009 analysis of bachelor degree enrolments between 2002 and 2006 has found that the fastest-growing areas were biological sciences (up 310 graduates, or 36 percent since 2002), law (up 300, or 28 percent), communication and media studies (up 230, or 54 percent), and social work and counselling (up 210, or 92 percent)37.

The fastest-declining areas were information technology (down 660 graduates, or 40 percent from 2002), teacher education (down 380, or 15 percent), education studies (down 360, or 28 percent), and accountancy (down 230, or 20 percent)38.

While Pacific student enrolments in information technology have also declined, their enrolments in sciences have not increased significantly.

The table below shows changes in the broad areas of study by Pacific students between 1997 and 2007.

Table 10: Pacific students’ broad fields of study and shifts between 2006 and 2007
  1997 2002 2005 2006 2007 Change 06-07
Agriculture, environmental and related studies 106 290 437 474 548 15.6%
Architecture and building 294 596 774 838 920 9.8%
Creative arts 298 1,076 1,148 1,168 1,219 4.4%
Education 978 1,838 2,291 2,224 2,265 1.8%
Engineering and related technologies 876 1,567 1,918 1,997 2,316 16.0%
Food, hospitality and personal services 244 777 964 1,041 1,204 15.7%
Health 341 952 1,309 1,416 1,560 10.2%
Information technology 373 2,527 1,917 1,956 1,898 -3.0%
Management and commerce 2,512 6,135 8,599 8,330 9,526 14.4%
Mixed field programmes 910 3,836 5,426 3,850 3,569 -7.3%
Natural and physical sciences 509 716 762 794 804 1.3%
Society and culture 2,293 4,652 5,518 5,287 6,039 14.2%

Benefits from location of study

Overall, completing a degree at a polytechnic generally has the same benefits as completing it at a university. Students who complete a bachelor’s degree at a university may earn more than those who completed at a polytechnic five or six years after leaving study, though this doesn’t apply in all fields of study. Those who took their degrees at a university39 in education, health and creative arts had an advantage. Those who studied society and culture, engineering and information technology at a university had a very small advantage – of less than two percent – while the reverse was the case in management and commerce and architecture and building, where those who studied at a polytechnic earned marginally more 40 41.

The study has found that, overall, the median earnings of those entering the workforce with a bachelor’s degree from a polytechnic are roughly the same as the median earnings of those with a university bachelor’s degree. However, over time, university graduates gain a modest margin over polytechnic graduates42.

In many areas where the polytechnics have specialised in degree teaching – business, computing and engineering – the differences are very slight and in some fields, polytechnic graduates earn more than university graduates on average. However, bachelor graduates with the highest earnings are more likely to have taken their degree at a university43 44.

Positive trends

In 2007, 8613 Pacific students studied at universities, 11, 175 at polytechnics or institutes of technology, 2856 at wananga and 7877 at private training establishments. Of the students attending private training establishments (PTEs) in 2008, 12.5 percent were Pacific students (compared with 5.9 percent in universities or polytechnics)45.

Concerning trends

Most PTEs do not offer study at higher levels, which means that education pathways through PTEs can fizzle out. Evidence from a study of students transferring between tertiary education providers found that it can be hard to have previous qualifications or study recognised46.

Benefits of completing study

Completion of qualifications is very important both for future employment opportunities and to ensure the student gains sufficient benefit from the study to outweigh the costs, such as student loans. However, some students choose to only study specific courses for specific purposes, without intending to complete the qualification. These tend to be students who already hold a qualification.

A 2009 study of tertiary education completions found that students who passed all courses but left with no qualification generally earned more in their first year than those who had left with a qualification47. This was true for all levels, except level 4 certificates and bachelor’s level. By the third year of earnings this advantage still remained for level 1 to 3 certificates and diploma level, but had disappeared for other levels. Students who completed a degree, however, generally earned about 30 percent more than those who did not complete48.

Positive trends

Pacific peoples who complete bachelor’s degrees get greater benefits in the level of their income than Pākehā people49.

Looking at five-year completion rates, 49 percent of Pacific students complete their qualifications in PTEs compared with an average completion rate of 34 percent for Pacific students across the rest of the sector50.

A New Zealand study of tertiary education in PTEs has found that some things are particularly important for supporting the success of Pacific students51. These include:

Concerning trends

Overall, 38 percent of Pacific students complete their qualification within five years of starting compared with 41 percent of Pākehā students53.

Of full-time students beginning certificate-level study in 2006, 47 percent of Pacific students completed their study compared with 59 percent of all students after three years. 39 percent of Pacific students completed their qualification at diploma level after three years compared with 53 percent of all students.

At bachelor’s level, 40 percent of Pacific students completed their degree after five years compared with 65 percent of all students.

A recent annotated bibliography has found that the key barriers to retention for Pacific students ranged from personal attitudes and a lack of motivation, to financial pressures and the learning environment. Overall, ‘integration’ was the most common barrier discussed54. Integration problems include:

Initial teacher education  

While Pacific students made up 9.6 percent of state school rolls in 2007, Pacific teachers make up only 2.8 percent of the teaching workforce. However, this proportion of Pacific teachers has increased by 24 percent since 2002.55 The number of Pacific teacher trainees has increased from seven to eight percent of all enrolled trainees between 2003 and 2008. However, the number graduating is less than the number who originally enrolled. In 2008, 6.1 percent of the teacher graduates were Pacific teachers.

Table 11 below shows the proportion of teacher graduates who were Pacific between 2003 and 2008

Table 11: Proportion of Pacific teacher graduates between 2003 and 2008
Ethnic group 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Pacific 5.0 4.1 5.2 4.6 4.3 6.1
Asian 6.5 7.3 8.8 8.1 6.1 10.4
NZ Māori 13.7 12.6 12.1 13.5 13.1 13.1
Pākehā 78.1 78.1 73.1 75.3 75.4 70.0
Source: Ministry of Education data

Education and training opportunities in employment  

Many people in the workforce are also studying through tertiary education organisations, often supported by employers.

Positive trends

Data about Pacific participation in tertiary education show a large number of Pacific adults over the age of 40 enrolled at tertiary education providers in 2007.

A significant proportion of Pacific adults also participate in work-based learning through industry training. Industry training provides an important opportunity for people in the workforce to gain formal qualifications and upgrade their skills.

Pacific peoples are 4.9 percent of the workforce. In 2008, the number of Pacific trainees participating in industry training was 12,933 – up from 10,913 in 2006. Pacific trainees now make up seven percent of all industry trainees. This increase has been steady over the last few years56.

Concerning trends

However, Pacific peoples in industry training are more likely to be studying towards lower-level credits.57 In 2008, 48 percent of Pacific trainees were in level 3 or higher industry training programmes compared with 65 percent of all trainees.

This may be partly due to the higher number of Pacific trainees with no previous qualifications: 33 percent compared with 20 percent of all participating trainees. Pacific trainees tend to be concentrated in industries such as building services and materials processing58.

The proportion of Pacific young people entering Modern Apprenticeships is relatively low, and the reasons for this is unclear. The proportion of Pacific trainees actually declined between 2007 and 2008 (from 3.5 percent of trainees to 3.1 percent). Pacific trainees are also less likely to complete apprenticeships than Pākehā trainees.

Key Messages  

Effective schooling and sound subject choices in secondary school are critical prerequisites for Pacific students to enter and succeed in the higher-level tertiary education required for employment in areas of high future demand and benefits.

Embarking on a ‘career’ is now a very different thing from having a career in the past. The rapidly changing labour market means that a career is now more of a process, and careers decision-making is not a single decision at a single point in time.59

Although the early decisions about study are important, they are not the only decisions about careers that people will need to make. This also means that narrow fields of study could be limiting in the future, and that all people need to have a broad range of skills to enable them to change and adapt to new employment demands. This makes it very difficult to provide advice about the best career options for the future.

Despite the difficulties and dangers inherent in predicting the ‘best jobs’ for the future, some things are reasonably clear from the current evidence and predictions:

Modern Apprenticeships is a useful pathway to high-demand trade qualifications, but Pacific participation is low and completion is lower than that of other groups. It is not clear why this is. Industry training pathways generally lead to high-demand diplomas, but they only have clear income benefits for male employees. Few industry pathways lead to degree-level qualifications. This means that employees wanting to progress to degrees have to engage in independent study or negotiate study time and support as part of their employment.


10 Cotterell et al, 2008
11 Callister & Didham, 2008
12 For example, go to
13 The National Educational Monitoring Project (NEMP) assesses two areas of learning every year with a national sample of year 4 and year 8 students.
15 upcoming report by Ralf Engler, Ministry of Education
19 To get NCEA level 1, students must gain 80 credits, including 8 from numeracy standards and 8 from literacy standards. NCEA level 2 requires a minimum of 60 credits at
level 2 or above and 20 other credits; For NCEA level 3 students need 80 credits, of which 60 must be at level 3 or above, and 20 at level 2 or above.
To gain entry to a New Zealand university, students need 42 credits at level 3 or above from a set list of subjects, as well as some literacy and numeracy requirements.
20 Source:
21 Trades Academies:
Secondary Tertiary Alignment Resource (STAR):
22 Madjar et al, 2009
23 Hipkins et al, 2005
24 Madjar et al, 2009
25 Youth2000 survey:
27 Source
28 Maani, 2000 cited in Leach & Zepke, 2005
30 James, 2000 cited in Leach & Zepke, 2005
32 Wensvoort, 2009
33 Ministry of Education data.
34 Ministry of Education data.
35 and
37 Scott, 2009
38 ibid
39 Note that in this analysis, the data for the colleges of education were absorbed into the universities – this has an impact in particular in degrees in education.
40 Smyth et al, 2009
42 Smyth et al, 2009
43 Smyth et al, 2009
45 Ministry of Education data.
46 Scott, D. (2008). Different Tracks - a look at the different ways New Zealanders get tertiary qualifications. Tertiary Sector Performance Analysis & Reporting,
Ministry of Education downloaded from
47 Scott, 2009
49 Ministry of Education, 2008(d).
50 Tertiary Education Commission, 2009
51 Marshall et al, 2008
52 ibid
54 Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, 2010
55 PEP monitoring report 2007 at
56 TEC,
58 TEC, 2009


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