By: Simon Collins

Student numbers have jumped at three regional polytechnics – but the Government’s fees-free policy appears to have had no impact on universities, wānanga or apprenticeships.

Napier-based Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT) says its new enrolments by school-leavers are up by about a third, and Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT) says its total student numbers are up between 8 and 15 per cent.

Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec) first-year enrolments are up 7.3 per cent, or 120 fulltime-equivalent students.

Canterbury University also said last week that its first-year domestic enrolments were up 12 per cent and total domestic enrolments were up 6 per cent.

But Universities NZ director Chris Whelan said Canterbury was only returning to its share of students before the region’s 2011 earthquake, and nationally university rolls were flat.

“We might be looking at about 1 per cent [up] on average, but it could still be as little as zero,” he said.

Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, which already offered fees-free courses to most students, said the Labour Government’s policy of free fees for all students in their first year of tertiary education had had “no real impact” on it.

Industry Training Federation chief executive Josh Williams said there was also no sign of any jump in apprenticeships.

“Nobody is seeing any patterns of sign-up significantly different from what they would have otherwise anticipated for this time of the year,” he said.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins put the cost of free fees and $50-a-week increases in student loans and allowances at up to $380 million in the financial year to this July. Labour has said its policy of three years’ free tertiary study will cost $1.2 billion a year by 2024.

Hipkins said in December that he had budgeted for a 3 per cent increase in equivalent full-time students in 2018, equating to about 2000 extra students.

EIT chief executive Chris Collins said his school-leaver enrolments were up by 100 from last year, with a total of 350 to 400 students qualifying for free fees under the new policy. The increase is spread evenly across degrees, diplomas and trades courses.

“The fact that it’s up evenly across the entire polytechnic would tend to suggest that it [free fees] has had an impact,” he said.

NMIT marketing director Virginia Watson said Nelson-Marlborough enrolments were up 8 to 15 per cent, with “strong” increases at diploma and certificate level while degree courses were “on a par this year”.

Wintec’s director of products and planning Warwick Pitts said his jump of 120 first-year enrolments was “predominantly in trades-related qualifications, with some increases across health programmes”.

“We can’t solely attribute the increase in Wintec’s enrolment to the fees-free offer. Our applications were up prior to the confirmation of the fees free policy in December,” he said.

Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki chief executive Barbara George said her school-leaver enrolments were flat, but that was better than declines in previous years. Bachelor of Nursing enrolments have jumped by about 20 students, or 14 per cent.

“We think the effect of fees-free is to actually keep our enrolments at a good demand level rather than us going backwards,” she said.

Manukau Institute of Technology said total domestic enrolments were “on par with last year” but with increases in trades, engineering, counselling and social work.

Tauranga-based Toi Ohomai said its enrolments were down 4 per cent from last year, with first-year students the same as this time last year.

Thomas Cousins says fees-free study has made tertiary education more appealing. Photo / Stephen Parker

But hospitality worker Thomas Cousins, 22, said that the fees-free policy made it easier for him to study management and accounting at Toi Ohomai’s Rotorua campus.

“With fees free that made it a lot more possible and also easier for me. Instead of having to go from working to poor, I can keep working and studying [in Rotorua],” he said.

AUT University said its domestic enrolments were up 2 per cent but it was “difficult to attribute the growth specifically to the fees-free policy” because the age pattern of enrolments was unchanged.

Otago Polytechnic spokesman Mike Waddell said domestic enrolments were up 6 per cent but added: “We have not seen any increase in enrolments due to free fees. We have been in a very strong position well before fees free policy was announced.”

Massey University spokesman James Gardiner said Massey’s enrolments were “a bit behind” this time last year, partly because of problems with its new online enrolment system.

Auckland University spokeswoman Lisa Finucane said first-year enrolments were unchanged.

Universal College of Learning (UCOL) in Palmerston North said its enrolments were “similar to last year”.

Ara Institute of Canterbury, formed by a merger of Christchurch Polytechnic and Aoraki Polytechnic, said its domestic first-year enrolments were down 0.3 per cent.

Ōtaki-based Te Wānanga o Raukawa manager Aneta Wineera said it was “business as usual”, partly because only a quarter of its students come straight from school.

The Lower Hutt-based Open Polytechnic, which offers courses by correspondence, said its roll increased 5 per cent in the year to March. “Our enrolments increased last year and this has continued in 2018.”

Source: NZ Herald

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