Uni 101


Hi there and welcome. Thank you for visiting the UNI 101 website.

Uni101 is designed to answer your questions about university, and the ones you may not have even thought to ask. After the success of our first ever Uni 101 Event in 2015, we will be holding another one this year.

Where: Aurora Centre, Burnside High School, 151 Greers Road, Christchurch
When: Thursday 26 May 2016
Doors open at 7.00pm, to be seated by 7.30pm.

Why are we running UNI 101?

University staff notice when out and about that there are a lot of people – particularly parents – who don’t really understand the ins and outs of university today. Possibly because they didn’t go themselves or simply because times have changed.

Around 20,000 students enter university every year in New Zealand and parents generally would like to be able to assist their children with this major life decision – usually without any real knowledge of the sector as it is today. And unfortunately there aren’t too many places for parents, caregivers and students to go to get the big picture.

At the UNI 101 event, we hope attendees will take away some valuable pieces of advice, understand the fundamental objectives of a university, and where to get assistance when picking a degree or what institution to study at.

You will also learn about the support systems in place for students and whether or not university is the right place for you or your child anyway. It is all about making informed decisions.

None of the presenters have a PhD in this area – we merely want to share our experiences, knowledge, opinions and advice.

At the event we will also have pieces of advice from several experts in different fields as well as people who have been in your position now whether they are prospective students or parents/caregivers.

Please also realise that UNI 101 is neutral. We are not here to promote any one institution. There are only 8 universities in New Zealand and we all like to ensure we have the right students studying at our institution.

The information we are giving you is for anyone contemplating studying or supporting someone to study at any university in New Zealand.

So let’s get started.


First things first. What is a university and what is the actual purpose?

The fundamental purpose of a university is to impart knowledge (informed by research) and foster critical thought.

Hmmm….but what does that actually mean? When we look at the stigma around university, many people tend to think that it is expensive, mysterious, academically intimidating, huge, very theory based as opposed to ‘hands on’ and caters for only a small section of society.

We also think that the American media has a part in play in what people see university as. Movies like American Pie and the like tend to really exaggerate social hierarchy.

Although some of these stereotypes may be true in a few cases, generally the easiest way to explain what university really is, is by comparing it to what most people know: school.

The main differences include:

  • No uniform!
  • Demographics – people as young as 16 (sometimes younger, believe it or not) and some as old as 97 (no age limit).
  • New social experiences – bars on campus, students’ associations, mixing with like-minded people.
  • Independent learning – you are expected to turn up to class and hand your assignments in without any reminders from anyone. There is no class roll taken!
  • Choice – there is more choice in what you can study. There are so many more areas that you can choose to study in compared to those offered at school. You are also at university for about 30 weeks a year. You are at school for about 40 weeks a year.
  • University is about the student, not the family. No parent interviews. No reports. Due to privacy laws, there is no way that we can confirm your child actually is enrolled at the institution unless they give us permission – even if you contribute financially.
  • There is a huge amount of academic, social, health, spiritual and sometimes financial support but students need to learn to ask for it.
  • Class sizes – some lectures can have up to 800 people in them!

How many universities are there in NZ? As noted above, there are 8:

So why go to university? What is the point? Our advice is to be smart when looking at your options.

To be smart is to understand the term: academic inflation. Some of you may have heard about this before but it should really be on the front of everyone’s mind when deciding which degree to do.

Currently, there are a lot of people in New Zealand, and the world, with a degree. More than ever in fact. Because of this, the overall value of a degree has decreased (just like the law of supply and demand for you economists out there!). We are hearing that some employers are now saying that having a degree is like having UE was 25 years ago.

Possible reasons for this increase include:

  • The introduction of NCEA – this fundamentally lowered entry criteria and ‘opened the gates’ for more students to enter university, and
  • The recession – more people went back to university when they lost their jobs or wanted to up-skill.

Apparently, there are about 224,000 more people studying at university now than there was in the entire tertiary sector in 1988 (and they have to pay for the pleasure!)

So what does this mean and how does it affect you?

One word: competition.

It is no longer about just getting a degree. You now need to get a degree with ‘added value’.

Our advice:

  • Get relevant work experience/practical work (which you can sometimes complete in your degree).
  • Attitude – be proactive, motivated and willing to learn. Be willing to work from the ground up.
  • Online presence – LinkedIn profiles are important! Be careful about what you share on Facebook.
  • Choose a specialist programme.
  • Start networking in your chosen industry NOW! Shadow someone for the day to find out if you are really passionate about the role.
  • Signup to all relevant industry associations and affiliations.
  • Work backwards – Go to the job websites and type in an area that interests you – say, engineering. Look at the jobs available, what skills and attributes the companies and organisations want, how much the job is paying and what qualification they want you to have. Then look at the institutions that offer that qualification and work out which one suits you best. Then look at the subjects you need at school to get into that programme. It works a treat – but people don’t usually think of doing it that way.

Other tips for choosing where and what to study:

  • The world is changing. We need to look to the future and be prepared for what might be required. Think strategically about what the world needs, and how you can align a career to that need. Everyone knows about the traditional careers paths – what else is out there that would suit your skill set?
  • All universities in New Zealand are ranked in the top three percent in the world. You can’t pick a ‘bad’ university here
  • Look for the points of difference between institutions and consider which are important to you:

o Open door policy: lecturer availability
o Facilities on campus
o Student/lecturer ratio
o Size
o Feel
o Focus
o Graduate outcomes
o Industry relationships
o Reputation – domestic and international

  • Think in terms of value chains. Although you may not want to go to university to be an engineer, perhaps there is something else in that field that you could look at. Think in terms of product production. You would be surprised how many sectors and industries are related.
  • Think seriously about your subjects and how they can fit into different roles. For example people who are good at music tend to be really good at IT (it’s a language thing!). And if you are good at IT but love the environment say, look for a qualification that satisfies both.


So we have done the general overview of why you might look at a university. Now we come to the nitty gritty bits.

The first question we usually get asked is how much will it cost?

It’s true. University study is expensive. Tuition fees alone can cost anywhere from $5026 (teaching training at Waikato University in 2015) to $14360 (medicine at Otago University in 2015).

The average price you are looking at will be between $5500 and $7000. Noting that commerce degrees tend to be cheaper than science degrees due to resourcing requirements.

Did you know that the Government actually subsidizes 75% of domestic fees? So the roughly $6.5k you pay, on average, is a fraction of the actual cost of your study.

So, what other costs to you need to be wary of?

  • Field trips and tours.
  • Recreation Centre fees (sometime incorporated in fees).
  • Students’ association fees.
  • Student services levy ($600 – $700 a year. Money that is ring-fenced to be spent on students only. Most universities will work with students to find out what they want it spent on – student space, services such as health, recreation, facilities etc.).
  • Stationery and books – depending on what you study, these could be quite expensive. Look out for the second hand book sale usually put on by the Students’ Association when you start.
  • Accommodation. These costs usually sit between $12000 and $16000 a year depending on where you go.

So, how do you pay for it all? Holy moly!

You have a few options:

  • Get a part time job (although we recommend that students only work a maximum of 12 hours a weeks to ensure that they maintain balance between academic, sport, social and work activities).
  • Students could ask their parents really nicely? Ha!
  • Student Loans/allowances – make sure that you understand the eligibility rules around these.

Now another area that people tend to really misunderstand is scholarships.

Usually when we bring this up with people their eyes glaze over and as they tend to think that we will only be focusing on the A+ students in the room. The thing you will notice about many scholarships is that there are usually there to entice students to study in a particular field/industry, study at a particular institution, or enhance any other skill they might have such as sport or leadership. Some cover accommodation and other costs, but most cover fees. There are potentially thousands of different scholarships but you need to do your homework, check the eligibility, and ask for help if you need it. In some cases it is possible to hold more than one scholarship at a time.
The other thing you probably need to do is learn how to budget. This will most definitely assist you in the long term. The key thing to note is that a loan/allowance will still most likely leave a short fall in your income and may NOT cover your weekly expenses so you are going to have to plan ahead and make sure you have enough income to cover everything. Get a job related to the things you are studying or paid practical work/work experience if possible.

Halls of Residence

Living in the Halls of Residence is part of the fun of university. Some universities have halls on campus, others off campus in the city. Check them out when you visit or view online.

There is usually some competition around getting into the Halls of Residence, depending on where you want to study. Our advice:

  • Apply early.
  • Apply for more than one if you haven’t made up your mind which university you are going to.
  • Be as informative as you can on your application form.
  • Ask your school for a reference early.
  • Be prepared to have to pay a deposit to secure your room.
  • Check the rules around how often you can pay your halls fees – whether it be monthly, fortnightly or each semester (there are two semesters a year).
  • Visit the Halls if you can beforehand.
  • You are not buying real estate so don’t worry about the colour of the carpet or walls! It’s not about the paint – it’s about the people in the room next door to you.
  • There are Residential Assistants who look after you. They are highly trained in first aid, listening skills and best of all know the pressure of being a student!

Halls usually have very good support systems including academic and pastoral care.

Academic Expectations

What about academic expectations? A lot of students worry about the jump from Year 13 to first year. Surprisingly you will find that many (but not all) first year courses tend to repeat an element of subject matter taught in Year 12 and 13 to ensure that all students set out on the right foot.

University Entrance (UE) has been designed to ensure students have proven ability to cope with university study.

Talking about entry requirements, it is imperative that you research these early. You will notice that some universities are upping their entry requirements to make sure they get the top tier students into their courses (you can do that when everyone wants to get a degree: academic inflation!).

Please please please make sure that you or your child is on track in regards to entry requirements. You will notice that many universities will refer you back to the schools to ensure students are on the right track in regards to meeting the requirements to get into their institutions.

Please also note that there are options for students who do not obtain UE. Many universities offer bridging courses – some of which do not necessarily take extra time on top of the degree. Research these – just in case!

Universities tend to be like wee communities when it comes to support– they tend to take a holistic approach in areas such as:

  • Career coaching: CVs, interview tips, connections, direction. They also have good literature on this for you to take away.
  • Accommodation help not just for the Halls of Residence. They sometimes help you find flats or home stays.
  • Financial assistance – possible welfare funds for hardship.
  • Scholarship assistance.
  • Learning support (broken leg, glandular fever, head injury, dyslexia – reader/writer). Any learning challenges.
  • Health services – as well as running as a normal General Practice surgery, most universities usually have a mental health nurse or councillors available for students to see.
  • Students’ Association – these usually have an Education Officer who can deal with academic issues as well as people who can advocate for you in regards to issues with landlords or the Police (should you ever need it).
  • Free tutorials on essay writing (different from school!), exam techniques and study tips. There are even prep classes on things like statistics.
  • Most of these services are free or highly subsidised thanks to the Student Services Levy and Students’ Association fees – see fees section.
  • Make sure that you/your child asks for help. There is a huge support network, they just need to be proactive about obtaining that support.

If you are failing, or you simply don’t like the degree you are doing, you can potentially cross credit many of your first year papers to another university. You are not locked in like NCEA – be careful with your student loan though! Talk to people at the University before you leave – there might be options for you…

Can you be asked to leave? Yes. If you are failing too many courses or if there is a breach to the university code of conduct – for example you have brought the university into disrepute – you can be asked to leave.

A few tips to take away:

  • Don’t go into education for education’s sake. If you are going to go, you must have an ‘end goal’ in mind. You don’t go there to find yourself anymore; you go to improve yourself….
  • Embrace university life and all that it offers.
  • Accept and embrace the competitiveness of university.
  • Utilise your experts – Careers Advisers, people in the industry, university Liaison Officers. The more research you do, the more comfortable you will be with your decision.
  • Visit the campus – Open Days are a good place to start but most universities will be more than willing to host you independently.
  • Network, even before you start university.
  • Get cocky about scholarships.
  • Don’t be passive about the process.
  • Work backwards from the job to the qualification.
  • Specifically for parents, stay interested and be supportive of successes AND failures of your children.
  • Encourage life balance – sport, social, academic, work and rest (have that wall calendar and selection of highlighters handy!).
  • Encourage your child to have an open mind about life at university. They are going to be introduced to new people and new experiences.
  • Know when to back away and when to be involved as a parent: try and stay involved even if they don’t really seem to want you there. They do.
  • Understand the nature of your child’s workload (they have a lot going on!).
  • Start talking about this early! Incorporate it into subject selection conversations. Involve the universities’ Liaison Officers in these conversations if necessary. Stay positive when discussing the future with them.