Fees Free – what tertiary education organisations need to know

Fees Free – what tertiary education organisations need to know

Last updated 5 December 2017
Last updated 12/05/2017

From 1 January 2018, eligible learners will be able to access either their first year of tertiary study, or their first two years of industry-based training fees free. Fees Free

The Tertiary Education Commission (the TEC) is responsible for the implementation of the Government’s first year fees-free tertiary education initiative. To do that effectively, we are working with tertiary education providers and industry training organisations (ITOs).

Eligible learners
Eligible qualifications
What's covered
How will TEOs be funded for fees-free
What the TEOs need to do

Eligible learners

Prospective learners who want to confirm their eligibility for free fees and find out how to apply for fees-free study in 2018, should go to feesfree.govt.nz. That website includes details of eligibility criteria for fees-free education and training, as well as a set of FAQs to help learners. There is also a call centre to provide support, 0800 687 775.

Learners are encouraged to check their eligibility before enrolling.

Learner eligibility information for providers and ITOs can be found in the relevant sections below.

Eligible qualifications

To be eligible for fees-free funding, the course or industry training programme must:

  • start in 2018
  • be funded by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC)
  • be recognised by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA)
  • at Level 3 or above on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NSQF), and
  • for industry training only, be at least 120 credits.

What’s covered

The Government’s intention is for the initiative to cover one year’s study or two years industry training, which is usually 1 EFTS/120 credits. 1 EFTS is approximately 120 credits or points. You can find out more information about EFTS on StudyLink’s website:

Some people study more or less than 1 EFTS in a year. The Government will fund fees up to $12,000 for study in a year. This limit is expected to affect around 1 percent of first-time students.

The fees-free initiative for provider-based education will pay:

  • tuition fees and associated mandatory fees, and
  • compulsory student services fees.

This aligns fees-free coverage with current fee regulation and the coverage of the fees component of student loans. Learners may be asked to pay other optional and occasional fees such as students’ association and club memberships, some course materials, and late fees.

Fee regulation continues to apply to fees-free courses: in 2018, providers can increase fees by no more than two percent compared to 2017.

For industry training, the fees-free policy will cover all fees paid by eligible learners and their employers for training and assessment, including fees paid to industry training organisations or directly to training and assessment providers. The policy will not cover other fees and charges paid by eligible learners and their employers.

How will TEOs be funded for Fees Free?

TEC will make bulk payments to TEOs to cover the estimated cost of fees-free enrolments for the 2018 year. Most TEOs will receive their first payment in early January.

More details on payments to ITOs and providers is detailed below.

What TEOs need to do

Encourage learners to check their eligibility

TEOs should encourage learners to check their eligibility at feesfree.govt.nz before enrolling. Learners will find out if they are eligible for fees-free study, not eligible for fees-free study or of unknown eligibility.

Some learners will need to complete a statutory declaration before we will recognise them as being eligible for fees-free study. We recommend you encourage students to do this in a timely way so they are not disadvantaged.

Determine what to invoice learners

TEOs will need to check a learner’s eligibility for fees-free study to ensure learners are billed correctly.

The TEC is responsible for determining learner eligibility and TEOs can check learner eligibility in any of the following ways:

  1. By logging in to Workspace 2 to download a file of all eligible NSN numbers. This will be in the Notices section of your Home page. The TEC updates this file every 24 hours.
  2. Send a list (in a .csv file with a header row) of your student NSNs to feesfreedata@tec.govt.nz for checking. The TEC will update and return your file advising whether the NSNs are eligible for fees-free, not eligible for fees-free or of unknown eligibility within the next working day.
  3. By looking up individual NSN numbers at feesfree.govt.nz. Note, this is for small volumes of NSNs only.

Download an Infosheet - How to check an NSN for fees-free eligibility.

What happens if learners have an unknown eligibility?

Learners who return an unknown eligibility result from feesfree.govt.nz will need to complete the statutory declaration process.

The statutory declaration process involves the learner returning a witnessed declaration to the TEC for verification, attesting to their eligibility for fees-free . The TEC will update the NSN file advising whether the NSNs are eligible for fees-free or not eligible for fees-free.

This process may take up to two business days.

Instructions for completing the statutory declaration process are at feesfree.govt.nz.

What about students with loans?

If students are eligible for fees free, they don’t need to do anything further.

If students are not eligible, or fees are more than $12,000 and they still need their fees paid from their loan, they can let StudyLink know by changing their ‘Pay fees’ details in MyStudyLink.

What extra reporting will TEOs need to do as a result of Fees Free?

We are working through what reporting we need from TEOs. Our objective is to minimise additional reporting requirements. We will also maximise our use of existing reporting mechanisms and arrangements. However, there will be some in-year reporting specific to fees-free learners. We will provide more information about reporting requirements soon.

Payments to tertiary education organisations

How will TEOs be paid?

On behalf of learners, the TEC is making bulk payments on defined dates throughout 2018 to cover the estimated cost of fees-free learner enrolments for the 2018 year policy. These bulk payments, which in most cases will be paid three months in advance, will streamline the process for TEOs.

For most providers, payments will be based on each organisation’s fees data in STEO, their historic delivery volumes, 2018 funding allocation, and their StudyLink fees payment profile.

Using these sources to calculate payment amounts means:

  • most provider payments will be in advance of when they may have expected payments from StudyLink on behalf of learners, and
  • over or underpayments should be minimised.

For ITOs, payments are based on proposed fees for 2018 for the estimated number of learners and apprentices who are eligible in 2018. For most ITOs, payments will be made quarterly.

Where necessary, the TEC has worked with a TEO to agree a bespoke solution for their organisation. This might be, for instance, where a new provider does not have sufficient historic data for the TEC to complete a forecast calculation.

When will payments be made?

For the majority of TEOs the first payment was made by the TEC on 3 January 2018.

Each TEO has received a payment schedule with their Fees Payment Agreement Letter, sent December 2017.

What if a TEO disagrees with the amount the TEC intends paying?

If a TEO disagrees with their allocation amount and/or timing of payments, they can request an evidence-based review by us.

What about over and under payments?

Bulk payments will be reconciled with actual delivery data during the year and adjustments made to future payments if needed.

The TEC will confirm with providers any amount owing for eligible learner fees. This wash-up process will be similar to the current wash-up for under or over delivery.

The future of Fees Free

The Government plans to roll out a full programme of three years' fees-free tertiary education by 2024.

The 2018 fees-free system is an interim one, and we can expect there will be changes for 2019. To inform those changes officials are working closely with TEOs to assess the experiences of learners and TEOs during this first year of Fees Free.

Later in 2018, after initial data is analysed in June, Cabinet is expected to consider short-term changes to the Fees Free policy to improve delivery, and set a plan for medium-term changes for 2019.  

Where can TEOs get more information?

For specific queries, TEOs should contact their Investment Manager, or the TEC Sector helpdesk.

Learners are encouraged to use the feesfree.govt.nz website or call the dedicated helpline, 0800 687 775, if they can’t find what they need on the website.


As a result of the new policy, employers will not be required to pay the fees for eligible learners. This will be done by the Crown.

Employers may need to help learners find out if they are eligible for Fees Free and assist them through the process, which in some cases will include getting a statutory declaration signed. For information on how learners can find out if they are eligible, go to feesfree.govt.nz, or call the dedicated helpline, 0800 687 775. 

Questions and Answers


Q. What learners will be eligible for fees free for their industry training programme for 2018?

A. To be eligible for fees-free industry training learners must:

a. be allowed to work in New Zealand

b. not be enrolled in school when their programme starts, and either:

    • have been enrolled at school in 2017 or 2018, or 
    • not have undertaken previous study or training of more than 60 credits, except while they were at school, and

c. enrol in an eligible programme.

For the full criteria, see the FAQs on feesfree.govt.nz

Q. What learners are eligible for fees-free provider-based study?

A. To be eligible for fees-free provider-based study a learner must:

a. be allowed to work and live in New Zealand permanently, or be an Australian or New Zealand resident who has lived here for at least three years, and

b. not be enrolled in school when their qualification starts, and either:

    • been enrolled at school in 2017 or 2018, or 
    • not have undertaken previous study or training of more than 60 credits, except while you were at school, and

c. enrol in an eligible qualification.

For the full criteria, see the FAQs on feesfree.govt.nz

Q. What qualifications are eligible for fees-free?

A. The qualification or programme must meet the following eligibility criteria and must:

  • start in 2018
  • be funded by the Tertiary Education Commission
  • be recognised by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority
  • be at Level 3 or above on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework, and
  • for industry training only, be at least 120 credits.

Q. Are there any age requirements?

A. No, there are no age requirements or restrictions.

Q. Why is the industry training requirement set at 120 credits?

A. The 120 credit minimum will help ensure training programmes have career benefits for learners, and will avoid learners using up their fees-free entitlement on short programmes required (and usually paid for) by employers.

Q. Why can’t lower level courses be covered by fees-free?

A. The policy focuses eligibility on quality-assured programmes that are considered to be a good investment for New Zealand and for all learners. Foundation programmes (at NZQF levels 1-2) are excluded because level 1-2 study is generally fees-free, and learners shouldn’t have to use their fees-free entitlement on courses and programmes intended to prepare for tertiary education at level 3 and above.

Q. Why do programmes have to be recognised and funded to be fees-free?

A. The policy aims to contribute to New Zealanders having affordable access to good quality tertiary education that provides skills for life and work. Quality assurance provides confidence that the programme meets New Zealand standards.

Q. Are private training establishment courses eligible for fees-free?

A. Yes, as long as the learner enrolling meets the eligibility criteria and their programme of study meets eligibility requirements.

Q. What should learners do if they are not sure of their residency status?

A If a learner needs help with determining their residency status, advise them to contact Immigration New Zealand through its contact centre on 0508 558 855.

Note that Australian citizens and Australian permanent residents are automatically considered to have a residence class visa. People with a residence class visa must be ordinarily resident and have lived in New Zealand for at least three years to be eligible for fees-free.

Q. Why are there residency requirements for learners?

A. The policy aligns fees-free eligibility with other learner support, such as learner loans and allowances. It helps ensure that fees-free support is directed to learners who have established an enduring attachment to New Zealand.

Australian citizens and permanent residents who haven’t lived in New Zealand for at least three years still receive tuition subsidies as domestic learners.

Q. Will part time learners be eligible for fees-free?

A. Learners can study full-time or part-time and be eligible for fees-free. If they study fewer than 120 credits (such as through part-time study, or full time study towards a 80 credit qualification), they can spread their fees-free study out. For example, a student studying part-time could access fees-free study for 0.5 EFTS/60 credits over one year and another 0.5 EFTS/60 credits over another year.

Q. Can learners carry fees-free over to another year?

A. Learners can spread their fees-free 1 EFTS or 120 credits over multiple years for provider-based study; however, learners cannot 'bank' the 2018 fees-free. This means if they start study in 2018 and are eligible for fees-free study, they cannot opt to pay fees for some of their studies themselves and 'bank' their fees-free study to use later.

Q. Will learners studying from overseas be eligible?

A. Learners can study extramurally (in New Zealand or from overseas) or on campus in New Zealand. The course or qualification must also be recognised by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority or Universities New Zealand, and be funded through the Tertiary Education Commission.

People enrolled at a tertiary education organisation not recognised in New Zealand are not eligible for fees-free.  


Q. What period is covered by fees free for industry training?

A. It covers eligible programmes for training starting in 2018 for up to two years. Learners can begin training in 2018 and be eligible for fees-free in 2019 as well.

Q. What period is covered for provider-based study?

A. Fees-free for 2018 covers courses beginning in 2018. You can begin your study in 2018 and complete your study later. For example, you could access fees-free study for 60 credits/0.5 EFTS in 2018 and another 60 credits/0.5 EFTS in another year.

Q. Why is industry training covered for two years, and for other tertiary study or training is only one year?

A. The Government’s intent was to pay fees for the equivalent of a full year of study (120 credits). Most industry training programmes are less than 75 credits per year and it is difficult for a learner in industry training to undertake the equivalent of a full-time study load in one year. The Government wants to ensure greater equity between industry training and provider-based study.

Q. When will years two and three of fees-free tertiary education be available?

A. The one year (two years for industry training) fees-free tertiary education for 2018 is just the first step in the process as the Government rolls out a full programme of three years’ fees-free tertiary education by 2024.

The policy will be phased in between 2018 and 2024, extending fees-free provider-based tertiary education to two years in 2021 and three years for all tertiary education in 2024.

Q. Will there be any changes to the fees-free process for 2019?

A. Bringing in fees-free tertiary education for 2018 is a major shift in New Zealand tertiary education policy. Officials will work closely with providers and industry training organisations to monitor how the fees-free system works in practice in 2018.

We acknowledge that the fees-free tertiary education system in place for 2018 is an interim one. It is fully expected that there will be changes for 2019 based on analysis of learner and provider/industry training organisation experience.


Q. What should learners do if they have a scholarship for 2018?

A. Scholarship providers are responsible for administering their own scholarships. TEOs can advise students who have been awarded a scholarship for 2018, to contact the awarding body to discuss their situation.

Q. My organisation administers a scholarship for first-year study, what can I do to adapt to the fees-free policy?

A. The Government recognises that your organisation is responsible for administering its own scholarships, and that you have probably already awarded scholarships for 2018.

If you have flexibility to allow students to use their scholarships for living or course-related costs other than fees, or in the second year of study, that will enable 2018 recipients to benefit from both the scholarship and fees-free. We suggest you also consider how you adapt scholarships for 2019 to reflect fees-free.

If you need more information about fees-free, or have questions about how to adapt in 2018, please email Fees free.