Kia ora! It feels like just yesterday that I missed my connecting flight to Auckland, but I’ve officially been a student at the University of Canterbury for about two months. I’ve also successfully driven on the other side of the road and bought something off TradeMe (Kiwi eBay), so I’m basically a New Zealander, right?
Just kidding — unfortunately I still have some work to do before I nail down the accent. I do, however, have a pretty good grasp of the higher education system in New Zealand, and it’s been interesting to compare it to the American set-up. For starters, New Zealand universities offer three-year Bachelor’s degrees, not four-year. Kiwi students begin to specialize at the end of high school instead of the beginning of college; as a result, high is school lasts for an extra year and universities do not have a GenEd curriculum. Some degrees, like law, are four years, but do not require graduate school. Nonetheless, “uni” is a speedy three years for most degrees, and students refer to themselves as “first-years,” “second-years,” or “third-years.”
Universities in New Zealand (a whopping grand total of eight) are also all public institutions. Each school is funded by the government based on enrollment numbers. My school, University of Canterbury, is currently a bit low on funds because of the 2011 earthquake sequence that devastated the region (more on that in later posts). Immediately after the earthquake, many students left the school, only to return a year or two later. Unfortunately, the last time enrollment numbers were checked was right after everyone left, and the funding has not gone up to compensate for students’ epic returns to UC. Still, a typical semester at UC for a New Zealand citizen costs about one third of what a typical semester for an in-state student at Temple costs. You can imagine Kiwis’ confusion when they hear about private school pricetags!
Classes in New Zealand also operate differently than American courses. Whereas in the U.S. I have many assignments that are worth small percentages of my final grade, in New Zealand I have very few assignments that are worth very large portions of my grade. For my Environmental GeoHazards class, my grade is derived from a mere three assignments — one lab report based on an all day workshop, one lab report based on a field trip, and one in-class test. In exchange for less work, students are expected to spend more time reviewing material outside of class, but luckily I’ve been able to grasp everything so far and minimize my workload. I am currently loving this (no homework!) but we’ll see if this feeling continues once I look at my grade for the course….
Classes in New Zealand are also much less discussion-based in general. At Temple, I’m used to mostly having small, participatory classes in the Honors Program or in the English department, but here every course (which Kiwis call “papers” by the way — this gets confusing) consists of a lecture and a “Tutorial,” which is basically a class meeting specifically set aside for discussion. This set-up applies to all subjects – science, liberal arts, business, etc. However, so far Tutorials have been focused mostly on question-and-answer sessions or small group work rather than actual discussions, which for me is something to get used to.
Overall, although classes in New Zealand feel less challenging than my courses at Temple, the NZ system is a heck of a lot cheaper, puts a lot less pressure on high school students applying to university, and reduces social stratification based on the “prestige” of one’s school. Plus, I didn’t have to buy a single textbook this semester!
That being said, the American higher education system is revered here, and many Kiwis talk longingly about pursuing further degrees in Europe or the States. I am incredibly lucky to be able to attend school in the U.S., for all its flaws. And not gonna lie, it is really throwing me off that this is technically Semester 2 at UC, and everyone is gearing up for summer break. Gotta love the Southern Hemisphere.