PhD Study in New Zealand – A Guide for 2024 |
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PhD Study in New Zealand – A Guide for 2024

Written by Mark Bennett

From sport and scenery to cinema and culture, New Zealand has plenty to offer international students who are prepared to travel slightly further for a PhD. But how much do you know about the country's world-class higher education system?

New Zealand's universities punch well above their weight in international rankings. More importantly, they offer unique postgraduate research opportunities you won't find anywhere else.

This page covers everything you need to know when searching for a PhD in New Zealand, with information on universities, application requirements and international funding.

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PhD opportunities in New Zealand - what's on offer for 2024?

New Zealand offers a perfect combination of excellent research opportunities, affordable fees and stunning extra-curricular activities.

All eight of the country universities feature in current global rankings. So, wherever you study your PhD, you'll be researching at an internationally recognised institution. Government support also means that you'll pay the same fees as a New Zealand citizen - with no higher rate for international students.

And of course, you'll spend your PhD living amongst spectacular scenery, with all sorts of opportunities to get better acquainted with it - from hiking and biking to skiing and surfing.

Here are just a few reasons to consider a PhD in New Zealand this year:

  • Unique research opportunities - From Ecology to Anthropology, New Zealand's universities tackle projects that simply aren't available elsewhere. The country is also home to pioneering science parks, financial centres and engineering hubs.
  • A globally ranked higher education system - There are only eight universities in New Zealand, but every single one of them is included in the 2024 QS and Times Higher Education league tables.
  • No international fee rate - Unlike many popular postgraduate destinations, you won't pay any extra to study a PhD abroad in New Zealand.
  • Safe and welcoming - New Zealand actively encourages talented students to study at its universities and potentially contribute to its economy after graduation. The country is also the world's second most peaceful country (after Iceland).
  • Stunning surroundings - People travel across the globe to see New Zealand. You'll be living there for three (or more) years. Plus, you can pretend you're in The Lord of the Rings (if you like that sort of thing).

PhD Study in New Zealand - Key Details
Universities 8
Nobel Prizes 3
Oldest University University of Otago (1869)
International Students 30,650
PhD Length 3-4 years
Typical Fees NZD $6,500 to $7,500 (USD $4,024-4,644)
Academic Year February to November

New Zealand universities

The New Zealand higher education system is closely modelled on the UK: students complete undergraduate Bachelors degrees before potentially continuing on to study a Masters and / or a PhD.

There are eight universities in New Zealand. All are publically-funded institutions, regulated and accredited by the government. They carry out research in all major academic fields and have the ability to award PhDs and other doctorates.

New Zealand university rankings

With four of its universities in the current QS and Times Higher Education top 500, New Zealand is one of the few countries that can claim to have its entire university system represented in two of the three main global league tables.

Top New Zealand Universities in 2024
University THE 2024 QS 2024 ARWU 2023
University of Auckland =150 68 201-300
University of Otago 301-350 206 401-500
Auckland University of Technology 401-500 =407 801-900
Lincoln University 401-500 =362 801-900
Victoria University of Wellington 401-500 241 401-500
University of Waikato 401-500 250 801-900
University of Canterbury 501-600 =256 401-500
Massey University 501-600 =239 701-800
Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

Other opportunities

Some PhDs in New Zealand are carried out at specialised research centres. These are separate from universities, but award degrees in partnership with them.

In addition to its universities and research centres, New Zealand is also home to various Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPS). These are also tertiary level (higher education) providers. These focus on vocational and professional education, including postgraduate Masters-level degrees, but don't normally carry out PhD research.

New Zealand university cities

New Zealand is made up of of around 600 islands, but don't worry: the country's major cities (and their universities) are all located on the two largest of these, the conveniently named 'North Island' (Te Ika-a-Māui) and 'South Island' (Te Waipounamu).

Here are the main university cities in New Zealand:

PhD structure

New Zealand's famous landmarks and popularity with international travellers make it an attractive destination. But the country is also easy to adjust to for international students looking for a longer term stay.

The New Zealand PhD is similar to doctorates in the UK and other countries. You'll research an in-depth topic and eventually produce a thesis that makes an original and significant contribution to your field of study.

You'll do this with the support of at least one supervisor. They'll be an established researcher with the academic expertise to help you develop your ideas and the practical experience to guide your project through to completion. In New Zealand your supervisor also plays an important role in the PhD application process.

Programme length

A New Zealand doctorate normally takes three to four years of full-time research to complete. Part-time options can take longer, but aren't available to candidates on a student visa (this will restrict you to four years of study).

The academic year in New Zealand runs from February to November. This may seem strange if you're used to the system in Europe or North America, but it's actually quite common for countries in the southern hemisphere. A short break between the end of your Bachelors or Masters and the start of your PhD could also be ideal if you need more time to work on your application or arrange your visa.

Assessment and examination

You'll spend most of your time as a PhD student in New Zealand working on research for your project. Depending on the process at your university (and your own training needs) you may be expected to complete some structured classes as your progress through your PhD, but work you produce for these won't normally be formally assessed.

Instead your degree will be awarded based on the quality of the thesis you eventually submit. This will normally be subject to an oral examination - or 'viva voce' - process, similar to that used in other countries. If so, a panel of experts will question you on your work to confirm that your research is original and you have an appropriately advanced understanding of your topic.

New Zealand's location and the smaller size of its higher education system can make it more difficult to arrange viva voce exams in person. Video conferencing may be used to provide a 'virtual examination' instead, or your PhD may be rigorously assessed as a written document and awarded without a viva.

Fees and funding

Unlike the UK and other countries, New Zealand doesn't charge higher fees to international PhD students. This makes the country a comparatively affordable option for PhD study abroad.

PhD fees

Universities in New Zealand are free to set their own fees for PhD programmes, but most will charge between NZD $6,500 to $7,500 (USD $4,024-4,644) per year for a full-time course.

You can check fees for specific PhDs by looking at the course listings here on FindAPhD. Some of these may already already include funding for successful applicants, usually in the form of a fee waiver and or a stipend.

Living costs

The cost of living in New Zealand is relatively low in comparison to some other study destinations. As a rough guide you should budget between NZD $15,000 and NZD $20,000 (USD $10,510-14,010) per academic year.

You can earn some of this money by working during your PhD (subject to the conditions of your visa) but you should make sure you have other resources to draw on too.


Applications for these scholarships are normally made through universities. The process is highly competitive, but don't let that put you off. After all, winning such a prestigious award won't just fund your PhD. It will also make an impressive contribution to your CV.

PhD funding in New Zealand

Our guide to PhD funding in New Zealand has more information on scholarship opportunities and how PhD tuition fees work in the country.

Applying for a PhD in New Zealand

There is no centralised application service for PhD students in New Zealand. Instead, you should apply directly to your chosen university. Or, if you are a student from the UK or Ireland, you can submit your application through the Study Options service.

Admissions requirements

Universities will set their own entry requirements for different PhD projects and programmes, but all of them will be looking to confirm two things.

Firstly, your university will need to be sure you have the necessary knowledge and experience to complete a PhD in your subject. They'll decide this based on your existing qualifications. A strong PhD application should be supported by at least an undergraduate 2.1 (or equivalent). A Masters degree may not be explicitly required for admission to a PhD, but additional subject knowledge is likely to help your application - especially if you've gained some postgraduate research experience in the process.

Honours degrees in New Zealand

'Honours' doesn't mean quite the same thing in New Zealand. Instead of being part of a standard undergraduate degree, honours are awarded for an additional year of research-based study. If your PhD asks for an 'honours' degree it will require you to hold a Masters as well as a Bachelors.

The other key criteria will be the suitability of the project you wish to research, or your suitability for that project.

If you're putting forward your own topic (as is common in Arts and Humanities subjects) you'll need to submit a strong research proposal that demonstrates the originality, value and practicality of your ideas.

If you're applying for an advertised PhD (as is common in Science and Engineering subjects) you'll need to show that you're the best candidate for that project, with a clear understanding of its research context and objectives.

The application process

Before formally applying for a PhD in New Zealand you should email a prospective supervisor. Universities won't normally consider applications from international students who haven't made contact in this way.

The person you approach should normally be the lead investigator for an advertised project, or a faculty member with appropriate research interests for a topic you are proposing yourself. It's a good idea to send them a short email, quickly introducing yourself and summarising your research interests.

You can attach your research proposal (if you have one) but don't rely on this to do the 'work' for you: your email should attract sufficient interest for the prospective supervisor to consider reading further - not the other way around.

Once you have the support of a supervisor you can submit your application to the university.

This will normally involve providing evidence of your existing qualifications, as well as a formal research proposal. It's possible that your university will also wish to see other materials. These could include:

  • Academic transcripts - Universities may request information on the modules you have studied, the specific grades you were awarded and any other relevant information about your course. Your previous university will normally be able to produce a certified transcript for you, given time.
  • References - You'll probably need to name at least two referees for your PhD application. At least one should be someone with previous experience of your academic work (a personal tutor or dissertation supervisor from your Bachelors or Masters could be ideal).
  • A personal statement - Your research proposal should already cover your academic interests and objectives, but some universities may also request a separate personal statement (particularly if you are applying for an advertised project). This should cover your wider interests and aspirations as a potential PhD student.

Application deadlines

Because a PhD is an independent research degree you can begin it at any time. This means that you won't necessarily need to apply before the start of a specific academic year or semester.

Exceptions may be made if you're applying for an advertised PhD, particularly if it has funding attached. These projects will often have a specified start-date, with deadlines set accordingly.

Make sure you leave enough time for your international application. As a rough guide, you should expect the process to take at least four months - and you'll need to complete it before you can apply for a visa.


Universities in New Zealand may wish to discuss your application with you. If so, they may invite you to an interview. This can usually be conducted virtually, through a webchat or video-conferencing channel.

Don't be nervous if you do get invited to take part in an interview. This is always a good sign - it means a university likes the project you are proposing and wants the opportunity to discuss it further with you.

Applying through Study Options

Study Options is an application support service for UK and Irish nationals who wish to study abroad in New Zealand (or Australia). Their advisors can offer free help with your application and its supporting paperwork, including providing forms and other materials.

Student visas

New Zealand welcomes international students, but you'll probably need a visa to live and study in the country during your PhD. Exceptions apply to citizens of some countries, including Australia.

You'll need a specific student visa to study in New Zealand. A standard visitor's visa will only be valid for three months. This is great for visitors, but not nearly long enough to complete a PhD (trust us).

You can apply for a New Zealand student visa online through Immigration New Zealand. You'll normally need to submit evidence of the following with your application:

  • Confirmation of your PhD enrolment - You'll only be eligible for a student visa once you've been accepted to study for your PhD. Your university will need to confirm that you have been offered a place and paid any necessary deposits towards your fees.
  • Financial evidence - You'll need to show that you have sufficient means to pay your fees and cover your living expenses whilst studying in New Zealand. This can take various forms, including a fee deposit, funding or third-party support or sponsorship. The New Zealand immigration service expects international students to have access to at least NZD $20,000 (USD $12,384) per year whilst studying in the country
  • Good character - You must have no outstanding criminal convictions. In some cases the New Zealand Government may request confirmation of this from your current / previous country(s) of residence.

Needless to say, you'll also need your passport.

You won't need separate health insurance to study a PhD in New Zealand.

Students who don't need a visa

Australian citizens can study abroad in New Zealand without a visa. So can students with an unconditional permanent residence visa for either Australia or New Zealand.

Working whilst studying

There are no restrictions on the hours you can work as an international PhD student in New Zealand (this also applies to Masters students on research programmes).

However, you should check with your university (and supervisor) before taking on extensive work alongside your doctorate: a full-time PhD is a demanding degree.

Partners and dependents

Your student visa will allow you to bring your partner and / or your dependent children to New Zealand whilst you study for your PhD. Your children will be entitled to enrol in school as a domestic student and your partner will be able to apply for a visa to work in New Zealand whilst you are studying.

Next steps

New Zealand is a popular visitors' destination and you'll certainly enjoy your time there as a PhD student. But what happens when you finish?

Well, one thing's for certain: you'll gain an internationally recognised and respected qualification that will enhance your CV around the world. The fact that you've taken up the opportunity of studying abroad, exposing yourself to a different culture and facing new challenges will also impress future employers.

Can I work in New Zealand after my PhD?

Your PhD will make you an attractive candidate for jobs around the world, but New Zealand will be keen to benefit from the training its universities have given you. That's why the country offers generous post-study visa arrangements.

PhD graduates can stay in New Zealand on a post-study visa for up to three years. You can seek employment in any field, even if it is not related to your PhD.

Once these periods have expired you will need to decide on your longer-term plans. If you are in suitable work, you may be able to apply for a residence permit. Further information is available from Immigration New Zealand.

Find a PhD in New Zealand

Ready to start browsing some current PhD opportunities in New Zealand? Alternatively, you can look at our other guides to PhD study abroad.

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Last Updated: 04 December 2023