Looking at the employment outcomes of tertiary education: New data on the earnings of young graduates


This report looks at the outcomes for young people who complete a qualification in the New Zealand tertiary education system. It looks at differences in incomes for different types of qualifications. The information in this report can help young people as they make decisions about what to study.

The data on earnings and destinations updates a previous report ‘Moving on up‘. The data is also available in a query tool Compare Study Options on the Careers New Zealand website. This page also includes two downloadable excel spreadsheets that contain the underlying data.

Author(s): Zaneta Park, Paul Mahoney, Warren Smart, Roger Smyth, Tertiary Sector Performance Analysis, Ministry of Education.


People take tertiary education for many reasons.  They think about what they enjoy, what they are good at, what they are capable of and what will get them started on a career.  Good careers are associated with better health, better well-being and more satisfying lives.  So many young people are making their tertiary education choices to gain the skills they need for satisfying and rewarding work.  They use a range of information sources to help them make these choices.  The information in this report is designed to add to the data available to young people facing those decisions.

This information is not just important to students and to their families.  The Government makes a very large investment in tertiary education each year – funding tertiary education providers, providing subsidised student loans and granting student allowances.  One major purpose of the Government’s investment is to help improve the New Zealand economy and society by raising the level of skill in the population – which helps make our society more productive, contributes to the creation of wealth and leads to better social outcomes.

Studying the earnings of graduates is one way of looking at the contribution that the tertiary education system is making to New Zealand’s society and economy.  So the information in this report contributes to an understanding of the value New Zealand receives for the investment we make in tertiary education.


  • Earnings increase with the level of qualification completed. And for qualifications below bachelors level, the size of the premium from gaining a qualification increases with the level of the qualification.  There is also a significant jump in earnings between degree and non-degree qualifications.
  • Employment rates increase with level of qualification gained. For example, in the first year after study, 53 percent of young bachelors graduates who stayed in New Zealand were in employment and 40 percent were in further study. Of young people who had completed a level 1-3 certificate and stayed in New Zealand, 34 percent were in employment and 49 percent were taking more study.
  • Very few young people who complete a qualification at diploma level or above are on a benefit in the first five years after study.  For those who stay in New Zealand, the benefit rate is around 6 percent for diploma graduates and around 2 percent at bachelors level.  But it is around 13 percent for those who graduated with certificates at levels 1-3.


  • Earnings vary considerably by field of study. Young graduates with bachelors degrees in medicine earn the most of all bachelors graduates. The median income for medical graduates is over $109,300 five years after leaving study, compared to $50,700 for all young bachelors graduates. Bachelors degree graduates in creative arts have the lowest earnings among young bachelors graduates after five years and they have relatively high rates of benefit receipt.
  • Some qualification types and some fields are associated with high rates of further study. Nearly half of all young people who complete a certificate or level 5-7 diploma move into further study the next year.  Around 61 percent of young bachelors graduates in natural and physical sciences who stay in New Zealand were in further study one year after completion of a bachelors degree, and 33 percent after five years.
  • Graduate certificate and diploma graduates have very high employment rates.  Two years after study, 77 percent of those who have completed a graduate certificate or diploma and who remained in New Zealand were in employment. Many of these graduates have completed this qualification as a way of improving their employment prospects or are studying while in employment.