Decisions on where to study are being swayed by the price of housing, with some students completely ruling out some universities.
The Waikato Student Union president says she's been told students are choosing Waikato University - despite it not being their first choice - based on the cost of living.
The number of students enrolled at AUT and Massey universities has fallen, collectively, by around 5000 since last year while Canterbury numbers are up 1100 on last year.
Victoria University projected their end-of-year roll count would be 300 more than last year.
Waikato University did not supply figures for this year, but the number of students enrolled increased by 100 between last year and the year before across the Hamilton and Tauranga campuses.
The University of Auckland did not supply figures but said its domestic roll increased "significantly". The number of students living at University of Auckland halls increased by a third this year compared to 2019.
Of the university cities, Wellington was the most expensive in which to rent a house at $610, followed by Auckland at $560.
Christchurch and Dunedin had the most affordable median rents at $450 per week, and Hamilton's figure was $495.
Halls of residence were mainly for first-year students; prices varied and could cost up to $20,000 a year.
Students could get a living costs loan of up to $242.53 a week; or an allowance, which was similar to the loan, but depended on the parents' income and did not need to be paid back.
First-time tertiary students could also take advantage of Fees Free support which covered tuition fees, compulsory course costs and compulsory student services fees.
Waikato Students' Union president Kyla Campbell-Kamariera said students have told her Waikato wasn't their first choice of university but they chose it because Hamilton is more affordable to live in.
She said those in the halls and with scholarships typically did not worry about renting until they were faced with making decisions based on their financial circumstances.
"In extreme cases ... students leave university for the workforce to be able to afford to live, anywhere in Aotearoa really."
She's also been made aware of students of all ages being made homeless.
For students not from the Waikato area, the city was relatively easy to travel around and was close to many other cities, which made visits home affordable, she said.
Campbell-Kamariera said the Tauranga campus made the university more accommodating to students from around the region, and there was a strong presence of Bay students at the Hamilton campus, too.
Rotorua Lakes High School student Lilly Edwards was currently tossing up between studying law at Waikato University, and radio imagery at the University of Otago.
The cost of rent and living, and the desire to keep her student debt to a minimum was playing into her and her friends' decisions around where they would study.
As a Pasifika student, she said where she went would also depend on if and where she got a scholarship to go to.
However, Edwards was leaning more towards Waikato as she had family who lived in the area and it offered cheaper accommodation.
Waikato also had the option to study via correspondence, which was another good money-saving option as her family lived in Rotorua, "which makes things easier".
"Some friends of mine are wanting to go to Auckland mainly for the reason that their family lives there, so they could stay there for a cheaper price than a flat or staying at the halls."
She said they were all juggling avoiding as much debt as possible with wanting to be able to have a good university experience.
"It's a big struggle trying to find proper accommodation," she said.
Fellow student Jack Eggleston said he would be going to the University of Canterbury to pursue an engineering degree and planned to live in the halls of residence for the first year, and flat after that.
The only other option for his degree was Auckland, which he said he didn't even really consider due to the price of rentals, high living costs and high transport costs.
Ōtūmoetai College co-head girl Lisa Evans said she had ruled out Auckland and Wellington straight away as "too expensive."
Her fellow student Zach Reeder had house prices were the centre of his decision because he hoped to buy a house while at university - his options were Canterbury or Waikato.
Rotorua's John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh said they were also noticing at their school that students were "often" avoiding Auckland and Wellington.
"What we have found with students intent on going to Auckland and Wellington is that they have been very enterprising by getting part-time jobs and saving hard."
He said students wanted to reduce the need to borrow and didn't want to put
financial pressure on their parents.
However, Rotorua Boys' High School principal Chris Grinter said the cost-of-living factor had not been highlighted as a major issue at this point in time by those planning on university study.
Ōtūmoetai College principal Russell Gordon's concern was with the size of debt students accumulated, which would need to be cleared significantly before buying a house.
"Many students will face the prospect of having to clear a significant amount of debt before they can even consider owning their own home; if that prospect is even within their reach."
A Massey University spokeswoman said the university could not say whether housing and rent prices impacted its enrolment, and many of the students studied online from around the country.
"At all three of our campuses, we have residential living options for students that are in line with the current average price for university living."
An AUT spokeswoman said they were not currently experiencing an impact on enrolment numbers linked to accommodation, as their domestic student enrolments "increased significantly" in 2021.
University of Canterbury Vice-Chancellor, professor Cheryl de la Rey, said the uni had 1100 more students in March than the same time last year, with 21 per cent more Māori student enrolments and 15 per cent more students.
She said flatting in other cities was increasingly difficult on a student budget, making Christchurch more attractive with many flats being within walking distance of the campus.
Financial help for students
• Living costs: up to $242.53 a week for living costs as part of your student loan.
• Student Allowance: up to $240 a week for under 24-year-olds and doesn't need to be paid back.
• Course-related costs: borrow up to $1000 as part of your student loan.
• Fees free: For first-time tertiary students, which covers tuition fees, compulsory course costs, and compulsory student services fees.
• Jobseeker Support Student Hardship: weekly payment to help with your living expenses during a study break of more than three weeks.