Funding for tertiary courses in prostitution could be considered under changes aimed at boosting quality and relevance in the sector, education officials say.
But MPs on Parliament's education and science select committee were told today that although courses in the world's oldest profession might be considered if providers put them forward, they would still have to meet tight criteria to get funding.
The questions on prostitution, posed by New Zealand First MP Brian Donnelly, surfaced as MPs were quizzing Tertiary Education Commission officials on changes to how tertiary education was funded.
Under the changes, from next year, institutions will be bulk funded on the basis of agreed three-year plans rather than on the number of students enrolled in specific approved courses.
Tertiary Education Minister Michael Cullen has said the changes are aimed at increasing the "quality and relevance" of courses.
However they have raised questions regarding the TEC's actual control over individual courses.
National Party education spokeswoman Katherine Rich said she was concerned by the TEC's apparent "agnostic" attitude towards the content of courses under the new system.
She questioned whether it might lead to a continuing proliferation of courses such as twilight golf seen under the old system.
TEC chief executive Janice Shiner said under the new system a request to provide prostitution courses would be assessed against the same criteria as any other course.
She said it was not the TEC's role to dictate what specific courses institutions could offer, but courses would still have to meet minimum quality standards, demonstrate genuine community need and meet Government priorities laid out in the Tertiary Education Strategy.
Providers would have to advise the TEC of any new courses they planned to offer over the three years of their plan and officials could require changes if providers could not show how courses met community needs or Government priorities.
Those priorities are stated as increasing higher level tertiary qualifications for those under 25, increasing numeracy and literacy, increasing advanced trade, technical and professional qualifications and improving research connections to create economic opportunities.
A spokesman for Tertiary Education Minister Michael Cullen said the funding of courses was an operational matter for the TEC.
However he said the Government was "not aware of any demand from taxpayers, communities, businesses or students for courses offered in this area".