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Qualification – highest, secondary school and post-school

Definition

A qualification is a formally recognised award for educational or training attainment, where formal recognition means that the qualification is approved by one of the following (or their predecessors):

  • New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA)
  • Universities New Zealand – Te Pōkai Tara
  • Association of Polytechnics of New Zealand
  • Association of Colleges of Education in New Zealand
  • approval bodies that have been recognised by NZQA
  • the recognised overseas authority of a secondary school, profession, academic discipline, or trade.

In general, a qualification is defined as requiring full-time equivalent study of three months or greater. Study time is an estimate of the typical time it takes a learner to achieve the learning outcomes of the qualification. This includes direct contact time with teachers and trainers, as well as time spent in studying, assignments, and assessment.

'Highest qualification' is derived for people aged 15 years and over, and combines highest secondary school qualification and post-school qualification to obtain a single highest qualification by category of attainment.

'Highest secondary school qualification' is the highest secondary school qualification gained by category of attainment, and is collected for people aged 15 years and over.

'Post-school qualification' is the highest qualification a person aged 15 years and over has gained over and above any school qualifications. Included are qualifications awarded by educational and training institutions, as well as those gained from on-the-job training. Post-school qualification data is produced as category of attainment and by field of study.

Where the data comes from

Data on highest qualification is derived from question 26 (highest secondary qualification), question 27 (another completed qualification), and question 28 (highest qualification and main subject) on the individual form.

Data on highest secondary school qualification comes from question 26 (highest secondary qualification) on the individual form.

Data on post-school qualification comes from questions 27 (another completed qualification) and 28 (highest qualification and main subject) on the individual form.

How this is data classified

Highest qualification classification

00 No qualification

01 Level 1 certificate

02 Level 2 certificate

03 Level 3 certificate

04 Level 4 certificate

05 Level 5 diploma

06 Level 6 diploma

07 Bachelor degree and Level 7 qualification

08 Postgraduate and honours degrees

09 Masters degree

10 Doctorate degree

11 Overseas secondary school qualification

97 Response unidentifiable

99 Not stated

Note: Due to data quality issues for 2013, level 5 and 6 diploma should be combined.

Highest secondary school qualification classification

00 No qualification

01 Level 1 certificate

02 Level 2 certificate

03 Level 3 or 4 certificate

23 Overseas secondary school qualification

94 Don't know

95 Refused to answer

97 Response unidentifiable

98 Response outside scope

99 Not stated

Post-school qualification classification (level of attainment)

00 No post-school qualification

03 Level 1, 2, or 3 certificate

04 Level 4 certificate

05 Level 5 diploma

06 Level 6 diploma

07 Bachelor degree and Level 7 qualification

08 Post-graduate and honours degrees

09 Masters degree

10 Doctorate degree

33 Level not given (but subject given)

94 Don't know

95 Refused to answer

97 Response unidentifiable

98 Response outside scope

99 Not stated

Note: Due to data quality issues for 2013, level 5 and 6 diploma should be combined.

Post-school qualification classification (level 1 – broad field of study)

00 No post-school qualification

01 Natural and physical sciences

02 Information technology

03 Engineering and related technologies

04 Architecture and building

05 Agriculture, environmental and related studies

06 Health

07 Education

08 Management and commerce

09 Society and culture

10 Creative arts

11 Food, hospitality and personal services

33 Field of study not given (although level of attainment given)

44 Don't know

55 Refused to answer

77 Response unidentifiable

88 Response outside scope

99 Not stated

For more detailed information at lower levels of the post-school qualification field of study classification, refer to the 2013 Census data dictionary.

For further information about these classifications refer to the:

Subject population

The subject population for this variable is the census usually resident population aged 15 years and over.

The subject population is the people, families, households, or dwellings to whom the variable applies.

Non-response and data that could not be classified 

Non-response

'Non-response' is when an individual gives no response at all to a census question that was relevant to them. The non-response rate is the percentage of the subject population that was coded to ‘Not stated’.

Non-response rates for 2013:

  • highest qualification: 7.2 percent, of which 4.9 percent were substitutes
  • highest secondary school qualification: 8.4 percent, of which 4.9 percent were substitutes
  • post-school qualification (level of attainment): 10.3 percent, of which 4.9 percent were substitutes.

Non-response rates for 2006:

  • highest qualification: 6.0 percent, of which 3.4 percent were substitutes
  • highest secondary school qualification: 7.4 percent, of which 3.4 percent were substitutes
  • post-school qualification (level of attainment): 9.4 percent, of which 3.4 percent were substitutes.

Non-response rates for 2001:

  • highest qualification: 6.5 percent, of which 3.1 percent were substitutes
  • highest secondary school qualification: 7.4 percent, of which 3.1 percent were substitutes
  • post-school qualification (level of attainment): 14.8 percent, of which 3.1 percent were substitutes.

Not elsewhere included

Non-response and responses that could not be classified or did not provide the type of information asked for are usually grouped together and called 'Not elsewhere included'.

Not elsewhere included rates for 2013:

  • highest qualification: 11.1 percent
  • highest secondary school qualification: 9.7 percent
  • post-school qualification (level of attainment): 13.1 percent.

Not elsewhere included rates for 2006:

  • highest qualification: 10.4 percent
  • highest secondary school qualification: 8.8 percent
  • post-school qualification (level of attainment): 12.0 percent.

Not elsewhere included rates for 2001:

  • highest qualification: 14.2 percent
  • highest secondary school qualification: 9.7 percent
  • post-school qualification (level of attainment): 16.6 percent.

For more information on non-response and substitute records, refer to the 2013 Census data user guide.

How this data is used

Data from these variables is used: 

  • by the Ministry of Education in determining decile rankings for schools receiving government funding
  • to measure the impact of educational reforms on skill levels
  • to examine the link between qualifications (level and field of study) and occupation, income, etc
  • to identify potential skill gaps in the labour market and plan education and training programmes
  • to develop, implement, and evaluate immigration policy, and to identify over- and under-supply in skill areas
  • to identify mismatches in the economy between people’s skills and occupations
  • in conjunction with level of attainment information for human capital analysis
  • extensively by the Ministry of Education to track long-term changes in the levels of qualification in the general population, to determine teacher supply projections, and to prepare qualification profiles for planning.

Data quality processes

All census data was checked thoroughly during processing and evaluation, to ensure that it met quality standards and is suitable for use. These quality checks included edits.

All data must meet minimum quality standards to make it suitable for use.

Quality level

quality level is assigned to all census variables: foremost, defining, or supplementary.

Highest qualification, highest secondary school qualification and post-school qualification are defining variables. Defining variables cover key subject populations that are important for policy development, evaluation, or monitoring. These variables are given second priority in terms of quality, time, and resources across all phases of a census.

Mode of collection impacts – online form compared with paper form

The online forms had built-in editing functionality that directed respondents to the appropriate questions and ensured that their responses were valid. As a result of this, data from online forms may be of higher overall quality than data from paper forms. The significance of this will depend on the particular type of analysis being done. There will always be a mode effect but this cannot be measured. Statistics NZ design and test to minimise the effects of mode for all questions.

There were differences between how the forms were completed online and on paper for this variable:

  • The online form allowed only one response to be selected for the highest secondary school qualification and post-school qualification indicator questions. If a further response was selected, the response given previously disappeared. Multiple responses to these questions were possible when forms were completed on paper. In the online form, people who stated being under 15 or are overseas visitors, could not answer this question unless they changed their answers to the two previous questions. When form completion is via paper, however, it is possible for people under 15 and overseas visitors to answer this question.
  • Because the question on highest qualification was a written-in response, there were some issues around the recognition of hand-writing in paper forms.

Quality assessment of data and data quality issues for this variable

Overall quality assessment

Highest secondary school qualification: High: fit for use – with minor data quality issues only

Post-school qualification: Moderate: fit for use – with some data quality issues to be aware of

Highest qualification: Moderate: fit for use – with some data quality issues to be aware of.

2013 Census variable quality rating scale gives more detail.

Issues to note

Non-response rates for 2013:

  • highest qualification: 7.2 percent, of which 4.9 percent were substitutes
  • highest secondary school qualification: 8.4 percent, of which 4.9 percent were substitutes
  • post-school qualification (level of attainment): 10.3 percent, of which 4.9 percent were substitutes.

The higher number of substitutes for 2013 has increased the non-response rate.

Highest qualification is derived from the responses to the highest secondary school qualification question and the level of attainment information from the post-school qualification question. Some problems emerged with post-school qualifications resulting in highest qualifications and post-school qualifications being graded as moderate quality only. In particular:

  • the question on highest qualification was a written-in response and some generic responses like 'Diploma' or 'Certificate' were given, which could not be coded easily. As it was difficult to assign a level to responses such as diploma, which could either be a level 5 or level 6 qualification, these responses have been combined in 2013
  • the high level of non-response to post-school qualifications has reduced the quality of the data.

For more information on non response and substitute records, refer to the 2013 Census data user guide.

Comparing this data with previous census data

General comparability of these variables

This data is fully comparable with 2006 Census data. Changes in the data over this time period can be interpreted as real changes because there have been no changes in the way the data has been collected, defined, and classified.

This data has limited comparability with 2001 and 1996 Census data. Changes in the data over this time period cannot be interpreted as real changes because there have been major changes in the collection, definition, or classification of the data. This is due to changes in the classifications used for each of the variables and changes in the way the data has been collected between 2013 and 2001 and 1996 Censuses.

Summary of classification changes

The classifications include National certificate of educational achievement (NCEA) qualifications from 2006 Census.

For the 2006 Census, new qualifications classifications were adopted, based on the New Zealand Register of Quality Assured Qualifications. This register was introduced in 2003 as part of changes to New Zealand's qualifications system.

When making comparisons for post-school qualifications between 2013, 2006, 2001, and 1996 qualifications data, the following applies.

2013 2006  2001 and 1996 
No post-school qualification  No post-school qualification No post-school qualification 
Level 1, 2, or 3 certificate Level 1, 2, or 3 certificate Basic vocational qualification
Level 4 certificate  Level 4 certificate Skilled vocational qualification 
Level 5 diploma Level 5 diploma Intermediate vocational qualification 
Level 6 diploma Level 6 diploma  Advanced vocational qualification 
Bachelor degree and level 7 qualification Bachelor degree and level 7 qualification Bachelor degree
Post-graduate and honours degrees Post-graduate and honours degrees Higher degree
Masters degree Masters degree Higher degree
Doctorate degree Doctorate degree  Higher degree 

There have been no changes to the collection of post-school qualification information between 2006 and 2013, but there were significant changes between 2006 and 2001 (and hence between 2013 and 2001):

  • Post-school qualification level of attainment and post-school qualification field of study were coded as two separate questions in 2013, whereas in 2001 post-school qualification was coded as one question. It is likely that this change in the coding process in 2013 has meant that some qualifications may have been given a different classification in 2013.
  • Certain qualifications were treated differently in 2006 – particularly historical teaching and nursing qualifications – to align with the New Zealand Register of Quality Assured Qualifications. This has contributed to the decrease between 2001 and 2006 in level six qualifications and the increase for the same period in level seven (bachelor level) qualifications. Other qualification levels are likely to have been affected to a lesser extent.
  • The inclusion of the example of a trade certificate on the 2013 Census questionnaire seems to be the main driver behind the increase in level four and level five vocational qualifications between 2001 and 2013. Care should be taken not to interpret the large increase in these categories as being entirely due to a real increase in trade qualifications since 2001.
  • The changes outlined above reduce the time series comparability between 2001 and 2013 of post-school qualifications field of study at the most detailed level of classifications. This is in addition to the inherent difficulties in coding field of study at the most detailed level from a self-completed questionnaire, which can also affect time series comparability. Cross-tabulations with industry and occupation in particular will highlight time series inconsistencies between 2001 and 2013.
  • In 2013, highest qualification can be output in two ways:
    • It has been output with categories that do not distinguish between qualifications gained at school or post-school, and which are consistent with the qualifications framework. On this basis, highest qualification prioritises the highest level of qualification gained, regardless of whether it was gained at school or post-school.
    • Highest qualification can also be output with categories that distinguish between qualifications gained at school and post-school. This allows comparison with output from previous censuses. On this basis, highest qualification prioritises any qualification received post-school over any qualification received at school, regardless of the level of qualification gained.

Comparing this data with data from other sources

Census is the only information source that provides comprehensive information for small areas and small populations. However alternative sources of information about this subject are available:

Data from these alternative sources may show differences from census data for several reasons. These could be due to differences in scope, coverage, non-response rates, data being collected at different periods of time, alternative sources being sample surveys and as such subject to sampling errors, or differences in question wordings and method of delivery (self-administered versus interviewer-administered). Data users are advised to familiarise themselves with the strengths and limitations of individual data sources before comparing with census data.

Further information about this data

All percentages in census publications have been calculated using 'Total stated' as the denominator.

When using this data, be aware of the following:

  • The New Zealand Qualifications Framework replaced the New Zealand Register of Quality Assured Qualifications (2003) in July 2010. 2006 Census data refers to the NZ Register of Quality Assured Qualifications while 2013 Census data uses the New Zealand Qualifications Framework.

Contact our Information Centre for further information about using this variable.

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