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New Zealand: Career Prospects - Must read

Famous alumni of New Zealand’s universities

New Zealand may be a small country, but it has had a significant impact globally. This can be seen by the success of graduates from the country’s universities, from world leaders to Oscar-winning directors.

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For many international students, New Zealand may seem remote and far removed from other study destinations. However, the higher education system and universities in the country are globally competitive. Degrees from institutions in the country are globally accredited, and graduates enjoy excellent employment prospects. In addition, the many well-known alumni who have graduated from a university in New Zealand.


University of Auckland


9,000 international students call the University of Auckland home. The university is based in the north of the country, in the harbour city of Auckland. It is the premier institution in the country, rated by the QS World University Rankings 2022 (QS) at number 85 in the world. The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2022 (THE) rates the university similarly as the top institution in New Zealand and the top 200 globally.


Anand Satyanand


Sir Anand Satyanand is a former lawyer and judge who served as the Governor-General of New Zealand between 2006 and 2011. In 2019 he was elected as the Chancellor of the University of Waikato. Satyanand studied for a law degree at the University of Auckland in the 1970s before going on to be appointed as a judge in the early 1980s. 


Tuila'epa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi


Tuila'epa is a Samoan politician and economist who was the 6th Prime Minister of Samoa from 1998 until 2021. He has also worked for the European Economic Community and as the Minister of Finance in Samoa. Tuila'epa holds the distinction of being the first Samoan to hold a master’s degree in commerce. 


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University of Otago


The University of Otago enjoys a five-star rating for teaching and research from QS and offers over 200 courses and qualifications across the university. The university was the first to be established in New Zealand in 1869 and the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) Educational Performance Indicators rate the university as number one for student retention and performance. QS ranks the university in the second spot in New Zealand and amongst the top 200 globally. 


Kamisese Mara


Sir Kamisese Mara was a politician who occupied the position of Prime Minister of Fiji for 22 years, from 1970 until 1992. He moved on to serve as president for the following seven years. He had been identified for leadership at a young age and started studying for a medical degree at the University of Otago before moving to the University of Oxford and the London School of Economics.


Mazlan Othman


Professor Mazlan Othman is a globally renowned astrophysicist from Malaysia. Othman was the first astrophysicist in Malaysia and worked extensively in public education in the country. She also enjoyed a long and illustrious career with the United Nations. Otham first pursued her passion for physics at the University of Otago after receiving a scholarship and studied both her BSc and PhD at the university.  


Rui Maria de Araújo


Rui Maria de Araújo graduated with a master’s degree in public health from the University of Otago and is a physician by profession. However, Araújo entered the world of politics and held the position of Minister of Health in East Timor, before becoming Deputy Prime Minister and then the 6th Prime Minister of the country.


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University of Canterbury


The University of Canterbury has a 140-year history and is based in the city of Christchurch on the South Island of New Zealand. QS ranks the university in the top 100 worldwide for student employability (2020) and as one of the top 300 universities globally. THE placed the institution first in the world in both 2019 and 2020 for impact in reaching UN Sustainability goals. The university is highly rated for its degree offerings, with 13 subjects rated as in the top 50 internationally.


John Key 


John Key is a New Zealand politician who headed New Zealand's government as Prime Minister between 2008 and 2016. Before working in politics, he had pursued a career in investment management and banking, including in the USA. Key studied a Bachelor of Commerce degree in accounting at the University of Canterbury and went on to study at Ivy League university, Harvard.


Beatrice Tinsley 


Beatrice Tinsley was a pioneering astronomer and cosmologist who made significant contributions to the understanding of galaxy development. She was a professor of astronomy at Yale University, the first woman to hold the post. Tinsley studied for both her BSc and MSc physics qualifications at Canterbury, earning a first-class degree for both.


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Victoria University of Wellington


Victoria University of Wellington is the premier university in New Zealand’s capital city of Wellington. The university is ranked in the top 100 universities worldwide for 13 subjects (QS World University Rankings by Subject 2021). The university has a reputation for renowned research, underlined by the 40 research institutes and centres based at the university.


Sam Neill 


If you are a fan of the classic film Jurassic Park, you’ll recognise Sam Neill. He’s an actor, writer and producer who has starred in over 60 films during his award-winning career. Neill studied at Victoria University of Wellington for a BA in English Literature. After graduating, he started to act on New Zealand television and then moving on to big Hollywood productions.


Taika Waititi


Another famous alumnus of Victoria University who has made a name for themselves in the creative arts is Taika Waititi. Waititi graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree and is an actor, comedian, producer, screenwriter, and director. His career has included some major work on blockbuster films such as Thor: Ragnarok, which he directed. Waititi is also the recipient of an Oscar, a Grammy and a British Film and Television Award. 


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University of Waikato           


One of New Zealand’s younger universities, the University of Waikato was established in 1964. Despite its relatively recent appearance on the higher education scene, the institution is already in the world’s 400 best universities (QS). The 2,500 international students at Waikato come from over 80 countries, and according to the International Student Barometer 2019, more than 90 per cent reported a positive experience.


Craig Nevill-Manning 


Craig Nevill-Manning is a computer scientist best known for his pioneering work at Google. He was responsible for creating Google’s first remote engineering centre and developed the early iteration of Google shopping. Nevill-Manning graduated from the University of Waikato with a PhD in computer science.


Jacinda Ardern 


One of the most prominent leaders in global politics, Jacinda Ardern is New Zealand’s 40th Prime Minister. Ardern worked for several years as a researcher for former Prime Minister Helen Clark, before becoming a member of parliament in 2008. In 2017 she became the youngest woman ever to occupy the position of head of state. Ardern is an alumnus of the University of Waikato where she studied a Bachelor of Communication in politics and public relations.


As you can see, alumni from New Zealand’s universities have gone on to enjoy successful and high-profile careers, proving that even though New Zealand is a small country, it’s a global player. If you’re interested in finding out more, read our guide to New Zealand’s top student citiesthe most popular degrees in the country and how to apply for a visa in the country.