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new zealand 1 - Course Information-New Zealand Course Information-New Zealand

Courses, qualifications and levels

A course is a unit of study encompassing teaching, learning, research and/or assessment. Papers, unit standards and modules are examples of different types of courses. A course or collection of course forms a program of study which, if completed successfully, results in the award of a qualification.

A qualification is awarded to students when they have successfully completed a programme of study, which has been quality assured by a recognised quality assurance agency. You can find out more about qualifications from the NZQA website.

There are a number of qualification levels. The level you start at depends on the study and training you have completed either at school or post school.

The entry criteria vary from qualification to qualification and these may determine which one you choose. The different qualifications are:

  • Bridging programmes/ Foundation courses
  • Certificates
  • Diplomas
  • Degrees
  • Staircasing

Bridging programs/Foundation courses

Bridging courses are for people who haven’t achieved the required entry-level qualifications, or who are over 20 and unsure of their ability to cope with study and training. Bridging courses are commonly held in maths, English and science subjects get students up to speed for entry to a degree-entry qualification. Many providers also offer foundation courses so that prospective students can learn essay writing, study and time management skills or get a feel for a subject area.


A certificate usually requires one year of full-time study and training. Nationally recognized certificates usually have the same course content and structure at all tertiary providers.


A diploma normally requires two years of full-time study. It can follow on from a certificate or degree, or stand alone as a qualification.


A bachelor’s degree, which is may also be called an ‘undergraduate’ degree, usually requires at least three years full-time study. Bachelors degrees are theory-based and involve moving progressively from more basic study to more advanced levels in one or more subject areas. A bachelor’s degree can lead to postgraduate study – and one or more years of more advanced study for an honours or masters degree.


If you don’t have the grades to go straight into a degree or diploma course you may be able to staircase your way through study and training. For example, you may want to be an engineer but don’t have a university entrance qualification, so you complete a NZ Certificate in Engineering, move to a diploma course and then a degree. Many people use staircasing to make a fresh start to gain qualifications.

There are lots of different subject areas to choose from, and your choices may depend on what you studied at school, your interests or your proposed career path.