People are ditching their overseas plans and are instead hitting the books post-Covid as Bay of Plenty tertiary campus enrolments boom for 2021.
Regionally, Toi Ohomai campuses were seeing a more than 40 per cent increase in applications and an increase of 33 per cent school leaver enrolments compared to last year.
Meanwhile, the University of Waikato's Tauranga campus was seeing "generally stronger" domestic enrolment on the back of Covid-19 and a 40 per cent increase in students applying for scholarships.
Some university tutors were even taking volunteer pay cuts to help students facing "hardship" post-Covid to get through their studies.
The university has dished out more than $600,000 of grants for students struggling - with one staff member who took a pay cut saying "all students are equally deserving of opportunity".
Rotorua woman Charlene Painter decided to head into study at Toi Ohomai's Mokoia Campus this year because she believed it was a "good opportunity" in a post-Covid world.
She was studying for a certificate of fitness because she had grown up being "all about sport" and now as a 20-year-old wanted to pursue her passion.
She said she applied to study a month ago with hopes of getting a job as a personal trainer afterwards.
She was eligible for fees-free study and said it was something that incentivised her.
"There's no better time than now to do it."
Toi Ohomai head of student support Logan Bannister said there was a 42 per cent increase in applicants compared to last year and an increase of 33 per cent for first-time applicants from secondary schools.
There had been 3472 domestic applications for 2021, 908 more than the same time last year.
She said they had seen a "greater increase in the demand to study" in their earlier enrolment season.
When asked whether students were anxious or wary entering study post-Covid, she said that was not the case and demand for work opportunities had remained stable.
The greatest interest had been in the trades training and community support courses, she said, which could be due to the Government's Targeted Training and Apprenticeship Fund.
Since Covid, the polytech had secured Technology and Hardship Access for Learners funding, which had been "tremendous support" for students and "widely appreciated".
University of Waikato's vice-chancellor professor Neil Quigley said domestic
applications were "generally stronger" as a result of Covid-19 and this was a trend seen in past downturns in the economy.
However, he said it was too early to give exact enrolment figures until February 2021.
He said they were expecting "continued strong growth" in domestic enrolments in Tauranga and continued growth of student numbers.
The Tauranga campus had seen increased interest in its health, sport and human performance, civil engineering, environmental science, psychology, accounting and strategic management, and secondary teaching courses.
He said some of these increases could be attributed to students "considering job opportunities for a post-Covid world".
The university facilitated more than $600,000 of grants from the Government's Hardship Fund for Learners, which was distributed to students who needed support in university costs as a result of Covid-19, he said.
In addition, around $300,000 of funding from the Government was spent on devices and internet connections for students during lockdown, he said.
Joseph Macfarlane, who is the head of campus operations at the University of Waikato's Tauranga campus, was one of 90 staff who had chosen to give up some of his pay for students facing hardship post-Covid.
He said it was an "easy decision" because he knew that a "slice" of his salary could make all the difference for someone doing it tough.
The money was put into a hardship fund, which helped students struggling with fees or living costs.
"I know it is going to good use."
He had met one student who had benefited from the fund, who ended up on his friend's couch unable to afford living costs.
Macfarlane said they "treasured" all students and it was a "joy" being able to help those who needed it in such "trying times".
"All of our students are equally deserving of opportunity."
Scholarship applications this year from school leavers were up about 40 per cent on last year, Quigley said.
"Te Ao Marama Scholarship was launched during lockdown to help students who may not have planned to undertake university study, but whose circumstances have changed. This scholarship has been offered and accepted by 31 students."
Rotorua's John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh said he had seen more students heading to university and applying for scholarships this year than in previous years.
He said things like increased hardship funding and the fees-free scheme were an "incentive for students to get to university".
He said he had thought that universities would have cut down on scholarships post-Covid but that had not been the case with many tertiary providers being more "proactive" than ever.
He said his Year 13 cohort had picked up more than $200,000 worth of scholarships.
"Many are realising how beneficial a university degree will be in a recovering economy."
John Paul College was also seeing 10 international students graduate and head to local universities for the first time.