Nearly Half of New Zealand’s PhD Students are International


Students interested in undertaking doctoral research should consider New Zealand – many PhD students already do.

New Zealand has the third highest share of international PhD students in the OECD – 48 percent compared to the 26 percent average.

So why is this Pacific nation of four-and-a-half million people such a popular destination for PhDs?

All of New Zealand’s universities are highly ranked, the teaching approach is practical and inquiry-based and offers students unparalleled access to academics, and a special PhD package for international students provides considerable financial support.

Since 2005, international PhD students have paid the same fees as domestic students in New Zealand, can work full-time, can bring their partner (who can also work full-time) and can enrol their children in New Zealand state-funded schools.

The aim of the package was to attract a greater quota of the world’s best young minds to create a hub of international researchers in New Zealand – and it’s working. Since the policy was introduced, the number of international PhD students in New Zealand has soared from some 700 in 2005 to some 4,500 in 2017 and has seen an increase in the quality and quantity of New Zealand’s research.

Brett Berquist, Director, International at University of Auckland in New Zealand says that other countries have since tried to replicate the package.

“To offer domestic tuition to all doctoral students, full-time work rights to the student and their partner, and domestic school fees for their children is unique in its scope and vision,” he says.

Financial benefits

Unlike most countries, you don’t pay extra for being an international PhD student in New Zealand.

New Zealand’s PhD subsidy programme treats international students like domestic students, for whom PhD tuition fees range from NZ$6,500 to NZ$9,000 per year. This is about a third of the cost international students typically pay for a postgraduate degree.

PhD students can also keep costs down by working while they study. Even after graduating, international PhD students gain a 12-month post-study work visa to support themselves and find a job in a field related to their qualification. If they receive an offer of employment, they may be eligible for an additional work visa for two or three years.

“New Zealand offered international PhD courses at a domestic fee. I looked at other English language destinations, but the course fees alone would have been astronomical. Also, PhD students allowed to work full time in New Zealand. I got a job at the university café, which meant I could support myself financially.”

Lena Tichy, from Switzerland, did a PhD in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University of Wellington

Students can bring their family

New Zealand is a family-friendly study destination.

The spouse/partner of an international PhD student is eligible for an open work permit valid for the duration of the PhD.

Additionally, any dependent children of international PhD students are classified as domestic students and can attend New Zealand’s primary and secondary schools at the same subsidised rate as New Zealand children.

These benefits mean additional financial support for the student – and emotional support too. Studying towards a PhD is a big commitment that takes a number of years to complete, so it is ideal if students can have their family close by.

“I brought my family over to New Zealand six months after I arrived. This was particularly important to me… You’ll feel happier and more settled when your family is with you and it will make a huge difference to your PhD life in New Zealand. New Zealand is a country where you can enjoy life alongside doing your research. So why not enjoy it with your family?”

Renoh Johnson Chalakkal, from India, did his PhD in Engineering at the University of Auckland

Close access to academics

The small size and friendliness of New Zealand mean that on campus students have regular, close access to the academic and administrative staff. PhD students meet with their supervisors regularly to talk through their work, discuss ideas, raise any concerns or challenges and work through solutions together.

This is good news for doctoral students seeking one-on-one feedback and advice. It also makes it easier for students to network and build connections with academics and researchers in their field, which will prove useful not only for their doctoral research but potentially for their future careers too.

“I have great support from my supervisors, and I meet my main supervisor regularly. I was already in contact with him prior to arriving, and then we maintained this relationship as I came here. They provide me guidance through my PhD. I get along with them really well. Since I have been in New Zealand I think have leapt forward as a researcher because of the support system I have.”

Marion Tan, from the Philippines, studied a PhD at Massey University

Practical and applied approach

All eight New Zealand universities are ranked in the top three percent of universities globally, according to the 2018 QS World University Rankings, with many subjects ranking in the top 50. This means that anywhere a student chooses to do their PhD in New Zealand guarantees they are learning in a high-quality institution, equipped with modern facilities and have access to industry experts.

A strength of New Zealand’s university system is the close links between academia, industry and government, which underpin the practical, hands-on New Zealand learning style. The New Zealand approach means that postgraduate students can work closely with external businesses and organisations on real-time projects and issues, as appropriate. In time, they graduate ‘work-ready’ which is very attractive to future employers.

A 2016 OECD report (Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies) ranked New Zealand as having the seventh highest performing graduates in the world, ahead of graduates from many of the top universities in the US, Canada and the UK.

“It’s been the best three years of my life being in New Zealand doing my PhD in ecology and biodiversity, studying native frogs. My field work has allowed me to go to different places in New Zealand, to forests and islands. There are lots of resources for students and it’s very easy to obtain funds to subsidise your research. Because New Zealand is small, everyone is very connected. You have the opportunity to work closely with excellent professors and other government organisations like the Department of Conservation, which is very willing to assist with research.”

Patricia Ramirez, from Chile, completed a PhD in ecology and biodiversity at Victoria University of Wellington

Entry requirements for a PhD

To be accepted to study for a PhD in New Zealand, students must prove they have the academic qualifications and sufficient knowledge of their chosen subject area. For example, while academic requirements differ, students may be required to have a master’s degree with first-class or second-class honours, or the equivalent qualification.

Students must also show they have the skills and ability to carry out independent research. Their work will also be expected to make a significant contribution to understanding in the field of study.

Source: Education New Zealand

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