Wrapping up high school and heading off to university is a Kiwi social norm. If you talk to any high-school kid these days, they will tell you all about the pressure there is to empty their pockets for a degree. But it appears this pressure might just add up to a whole lot of dropping out.
New Government data has revealed one-in-three university students don’t complete their degrees. Which means New Zealand is one of the lowest-ranked countries for university completion in the OECD.
Charlotte Hartley persevered through a Bachelors in Communications for a year-and-a-half and then a semester of a BA in Criminology before calling it quits. She told VICE she stayed longer than she should have, waiting for the degrees to grow on her. “I was in my first year and was like far out, this isn’t me, but I'll give it another crack, but it just still wasn't me… I guess I felt pressure to go because all my friends were at uni, the loan system is pretty good and I had already had my gap year, so I thought, ‘Yeah, I guess I better go to uni now.’”
The Tertiary Education Commission's (TEC) findings, which show 36 percent of bachelor degree-level students did not complete their qualifications over the six years leading up to 2017, broke down each university’s individual success rate.
Massey University had the worst completion rate, with only 42 percent of bachelor students completing their degree. Lincoln University also scored poorly, with only 51 percent of bachelor students graduating.
A spokesperson for Massey University told Stuff the results were “not a surprise” because roughly half of its students were distance learners. "Because of the nature of the students, they tend to be older people who are just looking to upskill and have other commitments… some people do papers with no intention of completing a degree.”
Otago University came out on top, with 71 percent of bachelor students graduating. That was significantly higher than New Zealand’s highest-ranked tertiary institution, Auckland University, which had a completion rate of 65 percent.
Universities have disputed the data for not being an accurate representation of university performance. Universities New Zealand director Chris Whelan said the results have "the potential to mislead students" because those who changed degrees were double counted as both a dropout and a successful completion.
Hartley says the country’s high drop-out rates are definitely linked to the social pressure you get in high school. “There is this whole ‘What uni are you going to? What are you going to study?’ mindset. And so people go and do it and then realise it's not what they want to be doing and that's why we have a high drop-out rate.”
“And if you don't go to uni, people are like, ‘Oh, what are you doing then?’ And there is this expectation for having a plan. But the thing is you don't really need to have a plan at 18.”
The performance reports only assessed students paying for their degrees. Data on those who were eligible for the Government's fees-free policy won't be available until next year.