There are fears thousands of students will be refused entry to tertiary courses as a result of changes which will make it harder to gain university entrance.
From 2014, students will need to gain NCEA Level 3, meet stronger literacy requirements and achieve at a higher numeracy level. The list of approved subjects for Level 3 credits will also be changed.
The NZQA's deputy chief executive (qualifications), Bali Haque, said the changes were not designed to restrict student entry to university, but to ensure the standard was set at an appropriate level for entry in 2015.
"The new requirement, while not a radical change, does raise the bar for university entrance."
He believed the changes, which stemmed from a periodic review last year, would have a "motivational effect and lift achievement".
However, a spokesman for the NZ Union of Students' Associations, Max Hardy, said the requirements followed an "erosion of access to tertiary education" over the past few years and would shut even more people out.
"We are very concerned that students, as a result of this change, who could have done very well at university are being shut out."
He said about 985 of this year's first-year university students would not have been accepted under the new requirements because they didn't meet NCEA Level 3.
"That's 8 per cent of students who actually have quite a good chance of completing their qualification and some of them will be doing very well. So, over a period of time, New Zealand is shutting the door to thousands of graduates."
The association estimated about 500 students, including many Maori and Pacific Islanders, would also miss out as a result of the change in approved subjects.
Mr Hardy said lots of students didn't do too well at secondary school but went on to excel in the tertiary environment.
"The sad thing is those students are normally from low-decile schools who really just need a level playing field, and we are concerned those people won't be given a fair go."
Universities New Zealand said the new requirements were more comprehensive and "would help ensure that students achieving university entrance are better prepared for university study".