Guidance – Fees Free

Guidance – Fees Free

Last updated 19 February 2024
Last updated 19 February 2024

This page has Fees Free information resources for tertiary education organisations (TEOs).

Information guides

Reporting guides

Fees Free Focus – monthly newsletters

We send out monthly Fees Free newsletters, with key updates and helpful tips for TEOs delivering Fees Free.

Sign up to the Fees Free Focus newsletter for policy, process, and reporting updates

Instructional video

This video gives step-by-step instructions for how to report withdrawals in the Fees Free All Enrolments and Costs return template:

How to report withdrawals for Fees Free learners (YouTube, 10:19 mins)

This video is aimed at private training establishments (PTEs). However, other providers may also find the information useful.

Frequently asked questions


If a learner withdraws from their study or training due to COVID-19, what happens to their Fees Free entitlement?

Some or all of learners’ Fees Free entitlement may be reinstated if they are an eligible learner and:

  • they withdrew from study or training due to the impact of COVID-19, or
  • their study or training was adversely affected due to the impact of COVID-19.

The Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) has automatically reinstated the entitlements of learners who withdrew from 23 March to 30 June 2020 and/or 17 August to 31 December 2021, without learners needing to appeal.

For withdrawals outside of the period from 23 March to 30 June 2020 and/or 17 August to 31 December 2021, or where learners didn’t withdraw, but their studies were adversely affected, learners can appeal their entitlement use. Learners can do this by entering their National Student Number (NSN) on They then complete the COVID-19 Entitlement Appeal form on the results page.

To support this process and your learners, we ask that tertiary education organisations (TEOs) continue to report all Fees Free eligible learners as normal, including those who have been affected by COVID-19. Please accurately report all work-based learners’ statuses as either ‘Active’, ‘Grace’, ‘On hold’ or ‘Withdrawn’ in the Industry Training Register.

Some TEOs may wish to implement more lenient refund policies where a learner withdraws due to COVID-19. In instances where you are refunding a learner’s fees, you must update your Fees Free returns to reflect the correct fees and/or EFTS charged to the learner.

For 2020 enrolments, there will be no recoveries made by TEC for under-delivery of Fees Free.

If a learner appeals their entitlement used on study or training impacted by COVID-19, will the TEO have to refund the learner or return the money to TEC?

No, TEC will remove the fees, EFTS and/or months from the learner’s Fees Free entitlement use but will still cover the fees for courses and programmes that were paid by Fees Free.


Are there any age requirements for Fees Free?

No, there are no age requirements or restrictions.

Why must work-based programmes comprise at least 120 credits to be eligible?

A minimum of 120 credits gives assurance that the training programme has career benefit to the learner. It reduces the risk that learners will use up their Fees Free entitlement on short training programmes directed by (and often entirely paid for by) their employers, or that employers will shift training costs onto trainees.

Why aren’t Level 1 and 2 courses covered by Fees Free?

The Fees Free policy focuses eligibility on quality-assured programmes that are considered to be a good investment for New Zealand and for all learners. It aligns Fees Free eligibility with student support and government tuition subsidies, and limits Fees Free to courses with regulated fees.

Foundation programmes (at New Zealand Qualifications and Credentials Framework Levels 1 and 2) are excluded because provider-based Level 1 and 2 study is already 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.

Why do programmes and courses have to be recognised and funded to be available for Fees Free?

Fees Free was designed to help New Zealanders have access to high-quality tertiary education that provides skills for life and work. When a course or programme is both recognised by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority or Universities New Zealand, and funded by the TEC, it means the course is of a high educational standard.

Are private training establishment (PTE) courses eligible for Fees Free?

Yes, as long as the course meets the eligibility criteria.

Are learners studying part time eligible for Fees Free?

Learners eligible for Fees Free can study either part time or full time. For example, they could access some Fees Free study in 2024 and may be able to carry over some remaining entitlement into future years.

For more information see Carrying over Fees Free entitlement.

Will learners studying from overseas be eligible?

Learners can study extramurally in New Zealand or from overseas (as long as they meet the eligibility criteria), or on campus in New Zealand. The course or programme must also meet the eligibility criteria.

For more information see Eligibility criteria and what Fees Free covers.

Why is work-based learning covered for two years but provider-based study for only one year?

The Government’s intent was to pay fees for the equivalent of a first full year of study (1 equivalent full-time student (EFTS)/120 credits). Most work-based training programmes are less than 75 credits per year. The Government wants to ensure greater equity between work-based learning and provider-based study.

What counts as ‘prior study’?

All tertiary education at New Zealand Qualifications and Credentials Framework (NZQCF) Level 3 or above is prior study. This includes tertiary education at an equivalent level undertaken in any country.

The following credits are not included in measures of prior tertiary education:

  • any tertiary education undertaken while enrolled in school prior to 1 January 2019 (except for tertiary education undertaken as an adult student)
  • any tertiary courses undertaken as part of the learner’s school learning programme or secondary-tertiary programme on or after 1 January 2019
  • any credits achieved as part of any work-based programme that consists of fewer than 120 credits that are reported after 1 January 2018
  • tertiary education undertaken as part of the Targeted Training and Apprenticeships Fund (TTAF)
  • any courses or credentials funded by the TEC undertaken after 1 January 2023 that had zero tuition fees and zero compulsory course costs
  • tertiary education undertaken through the Youth Guarantee programme after 1 July 2020
  • tertiary education undertaken through the Māori and Pasifika Trades Training programme after 1 July 2020
  • tertiary education undertaken through the Refugee English Fund.

What does ‘undertaken’ mean in the context of prior study and training?

To have undertaken study or training, a learner has previously enrolled in tertiary education. For the purposes of Fees Free eligibility, this includes:

  • study or training undertaken in New Zealand and overseas
  • study or training that wasn’t funded by the Tertiary Education Commission
  • part-time and full-time study or training
  • workplace training and apprenticeships
  • New Zealand study or training that pre-dates the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) or New Zealand Qualifications and Credentials Framework (NZQCF)
  • incomplete study or training, including where a learner withdrew after the refund period
  • study or training that received a fail grade
  • study or training as a domestic or international student
  • study or training that had no fees associated with it, and
  • study or training that the learner accessed a student loan for, paid for themselves, or paid for using a scholarship.


What happens to a learner’s Fees Free entitlement when they withdraw from a course or programme?

Provider-based study

Withdrawal and refund conditions remain the same whether a learner is eligible for Fees Free or not.

If a learner withdraws before your organisation’s withdrawal date, they:

  • are entitled to receive a full refund of fees and EFTS, and
  • will retain their Fees Free entitlement.

If a learner withdraws after your organisation’s withdrawal date:

  • they are not entitled to receive a full refund of fees. This may differ if the student is withdrawing due to exceptional personal circumstances (you will need to apply your organisation’s withdrawal policy in this case), and
  • any fees, and EFTS the learner has undertaken, will be counted as entitlement use and may affect the amount of Fees Free entitlement they can access in the future.

In both cases, learners who don’t use a full 1 EFTS or $12,000 in their first calendar year of study can use the remaining balance in later years. For more information see Carrying over Fees Free entitlement.

For more information about withdrawals please refer to your funding conditions.

Work-based learning

If a learner withdraws from their programme, they may still be entitled to Fees Free in the future. Any ongoing Fees Free entitlement depends on the amount of training they did before they withdrew. If the learner has not yet undertaken 24 months of training, or used $12,000, they will be able to use the remaining balance in the future.


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

If a learner needs help 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.

Why are there residency requirements for learners?

The policy aligns Fees Free eligibility for provider-based tertiary education with other learner support, such as student loans and allowances. It helps ensure that Fees Free is directed to those who have an enduring commitment to New Zealand.

Residents (including Australian citizens and permanent residents) who haven’t lived in New Zealand for three years or more while holding a residence class visa are not eligible for Fees Free while enrolled in provider-based study. They may still receive tuition subsidies as domestic learners.

Fees Free eligibility for work-based learning is aligned with eligibility for tuition subsidies for work-based learning in New Zealand.

If a learner meets the three years residency criteria part way through the year, what does this mean for their Fees Free funding?

If a learner enrolled in provider-based study attains three years of residency in New Zealand part way through a course or programme, any tertiary study or training they undertake prior to becoming eligible will count as prior study for eligibility purposes.

Counting all prior study, if the learner still meets the eligibility criteria, they’ll need to complete and submit a statutory declaration to declare they’re eligible for Fees Free. This includes letting us know the date that they met the criteria. If eligible, they’ll only be able to receive Fees Free for study they started after meeting the residency criteria.

Unified Funding System

How did the Unified Funding System changes affect Fees Free?

The UFS had some impacts on Fees Free, but ultimately didn’t change the way Fees Free works.

  • Fees Free continues to apply separate eligibility and entitlement settings to provider-based study and work-based learning (previously industry training).
  • Provider-based study is reported through the Single Data Return (SDR) and the Fees Free All Enrolments and Costs returns, and work-based learning is reported through the Industry Training Register (ITR), the Schedule of Fees, and the Fees Free Programmes and Fees returns. Tertiary education organisations (TEOs) delivering both modes will be reporting their Fees Free delivery in both returns.
  • The eligibility criteria for courses and programmes now refer to the new DQ3-7 and DQ7+ funds, instead of SAC 3+ and the ITF. See the eligibility criteria and what Fees Free covers.