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 can get a 3-year post-study work visa to stay and work in New Zealand.
Lena Tichy, from Switzerland, did a PhD in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington and chose New Zealand because it 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 are allowed to work full time in New Zealand. I got a job at the university café, which meant I could support myself financially.”
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.
Renoh Johnson Chalakkal, from India, did his PhD in Engineering at the University of Auckland and brought his family over to New Zealand six months after he 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?”
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.
Marion Tan, from the Philippines, studied a PhD at Massey University and had great support from her supervisors who she met with regularly.
"I was already in contact with my main supervisor prior to arriving, and we maintained this relationship once I was here. My supervisors provided guidance throughout my PhD and helped me to grow as a researcher."
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.
Patricia Ramirez, from Chile, completed a PhD in ecology and biodiversity at Victoria University of Wellington and says it’s been the best three years of her life. Her fieldwork studying native frogs has allowed her to visit forest and islands throughout New Zealand.
"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.”
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.