Thomas Cousins is one of hundreds of Rotorua students about to embark on a year of free study.
At 22, Cousins has spent much of his adult life working in hospitality but wanted to further his knowledge.
"I was originally looking at studying accounting in Auckland or through the Open Polytechnic," Cousins said.
"Then I was looking at a website of recognised qualifications in chartered accounting and Toi Ohomai was one of the recognised qualifications."
From January 1, 2018, New Zealanders who have done less than half a fulltime year of post-school education or training are eligible to study fees-free for a year.
Labour has promised to extend the policy to two years of free study by 2021 and three years by 2024.
A Toi Ohomai spokeswoman said enrolments had been sluggish for 2018 with enrolments down 4 per cent on last year.
She said the institute was unsure how the fees-free policy had impacted student numbers but there were 627 enrolled students taking advantage of the scheme so far.
This represents about 10 per cent of the institute's February intake, with enrolments still coming through.
Cousins, who has lived in Rotorua for 11 years, said he hadn't considered Toi Ohomai might have a recognised qualification as the institute was relatively new.
"I originally didn't want to move away from my family and my job. I thought the only university degrees good for chartered accountancy would be large universities," he said.
"It didn't occur to me the smaller ones were good ones too."
Cousins thought the fees-free scheme was a good way to get people who had been travelling or working gap years into study.
"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.
"It's great for people later in life who realise they want to change something."
He will study a Bachelor of Applied Management with a focus on accounting at Toi Ohomai's Rotorua campus.
A spokesperson from Te Wananga o Aotearoa in Rotorua said enrolments were higher than at the same time last year.
"Our enrolments are very pleasing and are tracking well ahead when compared with this time last year," they said.
"However, it is too early at this stage to determine how many of our tauira are taking advantage of the Government's new fees-free policy as nearly 80 per cent of our programmes are fees free."
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said about 30,000 students were expected to study fees free at university in the first year, and 50,000 in polytechnics, wananga, private colleges, apprenticeships and other industry training.
Fulltime students, apprentices and trainees will qualify if they are:
- Allowed to work and live in New Zealand permanently, or are an Australian or New Zealand resident who has lived here for at least three years; and
- Not enrolled in school when your qualification starts, and either:
-Have been enrolled at school in 2017 or 2018, or
- Have not have undertaken previous study or training of more than 60 credits, except while you were at school, and
- Enrol in an eligible qualification.
Eligible qualifications are courses that:
- Start in 2018;
- Are funded by the Tertiary Education Commission;
- Are recognised by the NZ Qualifications Authority;
- Are at Level 3 or above on the NZ Qualifications Framework, and for industry training only, are worth at least 120 credits.