Unitec students have lodged a complaint with the Qualifications Authority over the restructuring of the tertiary institute's flagship design and visual arts department.
Students paying up to $7000 a year in fees have gone into bat for their teachers over a management decision to cut permanent staff from 53 to 17, with industry professionals covering up to half the teaching hours.
Photography student Marisa Vodanovich says the mentoring and counselling roles of tutors will be lost in the restructuring, raising the risk that younger or struggling students will fall through the cracks.
"Tutors are in there every day offering advice and helping when students have meltdowns," Vodanovich says. "The continuity won't be there with a lot of part-time people flitting in and out.
"There's an awful lot more that goes into teaching than just telling people stuff."
The former marketing executive and administrator is one of a number of mature students who have given up careers to attend the design school based on the reputation of its staff.
Unitec says it is making the change to more closely align the department with industry needs.