Polytechnic enrolments are flat nationally despite the new fees-free policy for students doing their first year of tertiary study.
The independent chairman of NZ Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs), Charles Finny, said the country's 16 ITPs swapped notes on enrolments on Friday) and found no sign of any overall jump in student numbers.
"Some are up, some are down, some are pretty much on budget. The impression I got from the discussion is that it's a flat year," he said.
"It's certainly not a disaster, but there has certainly been no big increase in domestic enrolments, so no one seems to be seeing a huge increase in enrolments as a result of the new fees policy."
Universities are also reporting minimal impact from free fees.
"Most of the universities are reporting small increases, mostly due to international students rather than domestic," said Universities NZ director Chris Whelan.
"Domestic students are generally pretty flat - in some cases maybe 100 or 200 more than previously forecast, so there may be a small increase in there."
The fees-free policy provides free tuition to any domestic student doing their first year of full-time tertiary education at Level 3 or above on the NZ qualifications framework.
The Labour Party has promised to extend free tuition to two years from 2021 and three years from 2024 to students who pass at least half their papers in the previous years.
In the meantime, university vice-chancellors have warned that the policy may divert some students out of Level 5 foundation courses, which cost $716 a year at Auckland University, straight into attempting Level 7 degrees which cost at least $6000 a year.
Nick Waaka, who was inspired to do a foundation course to study for medicine after working as an orderly at Middlemore Hospital, said he would encourage students to still do the foundation courses if, like him, they didn't have the subjects they needed from school.
"There's some people in TFC [Tertiary Foundation Certificate] who could use the free fees, but there's also people who will come straight from high school that have done well - but your entire high school study is like two weeks of university, max two and a half, so with that jump they are going to drown," he warned.
He did the foundation course in 2016 intending to become a nurse, but his tutors persuaded him to try for medicine.
Last year he was one of about 1500 students in the first year of a Bachelor of Health Sciences, and this year he is one of about 300 who got through to start a Bachelor of Medicine. He is now paying fees of $15,384 a year, partly funded by a scholarship from Dr Lance O'Sullivan's Moko Foundation.
Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec), Napier-based Eastern Institute of Technology, and Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology all said this month that first-year domestic enrolments were up significantly.
But Bay of Plenty's Toi Ohomai said its enrolments were down 4 per cent. It has since announced plans to cut 18.4 equivalent-full-time staff on top of other cuts last year.
Finny said there was "no sense of crisis" despite an official warning that 80 per cent of ITPs will be in deficit within four years on current funding settings.
He said terms of reference were expected shortly for two separate reviews - one led by the Tertiary Education Commission looking at the structure of the 16 ITPs, and one led by the Ministry of Education on the wider vocational training sector.
"Our view is that the reviews need to be run in parallel," he said.
"The main focus is on the funding model ... Basically the suggestion would be to move from a volume-based funding model to an investment approach where you are buying particular outputs and meeting regional needs."