Higher Education

, Volume 75, Issue 4, pp 565–587 | Cite as

Decomposing ethnic differences in university academic achievement in New Zealand

  • Zhaoyi Cao
  • Tim Maloney


We use individual-level administrative data to examine the extent and potential explanations for the relatively poorer academic performance of three ethnic minority groups in their first year of study at a New Zealand university. Substantial differences in course completion rates and letter grades are found for Māori, Pasifika, and Asian students relative to their European counterparts. These large and significant gaps persist in the face of alternative definitions of ethnicity and sample restrictions. We use regression analysis and formal decomposition techniques to test whether differences in other personal characteristics, high school backgrounds, and university enrollment patterns might account for these ethnic disparities in early academic achievement. We estimate that no more than one quarter of the relatively poorer performance of Māori and Pasifika students would be eliminated if they had the same relevant observable factors of European students. Substantial unexplained ethnic differences in early academic performance at university raise concerns about appropriate policies to close ethnic gaps in academic achievement at university.


Higher education University academic achievement Ethnic differences or disparities Decomposition techniques New Zealand 

JEL classifications

I23 I24 I28 and J71 



Access to the data used in this study was provided by a public university in New Zealand for the agreed purposes of this research project. The interpretations of the results presented in this study are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of this anonymous university. We wish to thank two anonymous referees of this journal for the useful feedback on an earlier version of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Economics, Faculty of Business, Economics and LawAuckland University of TechnologyAucklandNew Zealand

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