Private training establishments (PTEs) and student fees

Updated on 5 June 2020

The information on this page only applies to:

  • private training establishments (PTEs)
  • fees paid by students (domestic or international) directly or through a student loan.

It does not apply to:

  • other kinds of tertiary education providers (e.g. universities, ITPs and wānanga)
  • fees that have been paid through Fees Free.

Updated guidance as delivery returns to normal

COVID-19 caused disruptions to delivery for many PTEs between March and May. In some cases, PTEs were able to continue their programmes uninterrupted by switching to online delivery methods. In other cases, PTEs had to:

  • rearrange the theory and practical components of their programme
  • suspend delivery temporarily
  • accommodate student needs by altering expectations of student progress.

Now that New Zealand’s situation is beginning to stabilise and face-to-face delivery can recommence, PTEs need to check that their student fee protection arrangements reflect any changes to programme dates. This may require some money to be returned to trust.

(i) PTEs using a standard trust to protect fees

PTEs need to check that the programme start and end dates recorded with their Trustee are correct for each of their students. For example:

  • If the programme duration has had to be extended due to COVID-19, the PTE must advise its Trustee of the new end date.
  • If the programme start was delayed because of COVID-19, the PTE must advise its Trustee of the altered programme start and end dates.
  • If programme delivery was suspended for a period of time, student accounts should have been frozen for that period. If this was not done at the time, the PTE must now work with its Trustee to update the programme dates and repay any over-drawn funds.

The SFP Rules require PTEs to repay any over-drawn funds to the Trust by the end of the business day following the day on which the shortfall was identified.

(ii) PTEs using a static trust or bank bond to protect fees

PTEs need to check that the amount held in their static trust or bank bond is sufficient. The upcoming Quarterly Student Fee Protection Attestation process will provide a good opportunity to carefully check that any programme changes caused by COVID-19 are reflected in the Maximum Liability Amount (MLA) calculation. For example:

  • If a student didn’t begin their programme as expected (e.g. their enrolment was deferred to a later intake), their full fee will need to be included in the MLA calculation.
  • If there has been an increase in the duration of a programme (e.g. because delivery was slower or suspended during lockdown), the dates will need to be adjusted so that fees for the programme are factored into the MLA calculation correctly.
  • If there are changes in estimates for future intake numbers – either a drop or increase – this needs to be incorporated into the MLA calculation.

Once the MLA has been calculated, the PTE and Trustee will (as usual) need to check that it is fully covered by the amount in the static trust or bank bond.

PTEs that use a static trust or bank bond for student fee protection purposes are due to submit their quarterly attestation for the quarter ended 31 May 2020.

  • PTEs must submit their attestation to their trustee by 8 June.
  • Trustees’ attestations are due to NZQA by 15 June.

If you have any questions about fees, trust arrangements, drawdowns, refunds or withdrawals, contact risk@nzqa.govt.nz

Previously Published Guidance

Drawdowns

What is a drawdown?

The term ‘drawdown’ is used in two different ways, depending on how the PTE has chosen to protect its students’ fees.

(i) PTEs that use a standard trust to protect fees

When a PTE uses a standard trust, each individual student deposits their fees into the trust account. The PTE is allowed to draw down the fees gradually, as the student progresses through their course. We call these payments ‘drawdowns’. The first drawdown happens when the student’s ‘refund period’ (explained below) finishes, and the rest of the drawdowns happen at regular intervals until the student finishes their course.

(ii) PTEs that use a static trust or bank bond to protect fees

Static trusts and bank bonds are both ways that a PTE can use a lump sum to protect student fees. Instead of putting each individual student’s fees into a trust account, the PTE makes arrangements for a sum of money (for a static trust) or a promise of money (for a bank bond) to be looked after by a trustee.

The amount of money in the static trust or bank bond has to be enough to pay a refund to all students who need a refund at any one time. The PTE and trustee work together to make sure that this amount (the ‘maximum liability amount’ or ‘MLA’) is regularly updated. The MLA has to be calculated to protect both current students and future students that have paid or are expected to start in the coming three months.

Because the MLA changes depending on how many students a provider has and expects to have, sometimes the PTE needs to top up the money in the static trust. If the PTE has more than they need in the static trust, they might choose to draw down some of the money. We also call these payments ‘drawdowns’. PTEs are usually allowed to request up to four drawdowns each year.

Who has control over drawdowns?

Whether it’s for a standard trust or a static trust, the trustee has control over what drawdowns are paid to the PTE. The PTE provides the trustee with information about their students (start and finish date, fees paid etc.) so that the trustee can make sure that enough money is being protected at all times.

With a static trust or bank bond, the trustee also has to contact NZQA about any requested drawdown to confirm there are no issues with it going ahead.

How will COVID-19 affect PTEs’ drawdowns from a standard trust?

If a PTE can keep delivering its course to students using online or alternative arrangements, drawdowns can continue as usual.

If a PTE needs to temporarily pause delivery to students, drawdowns must stop for that period of time. Depending on how the trustee’s system operates, the PTE needs to either freeze student accounts itself or request that the trustee do so, until such time as delivery resumes.

There would also need to be a freeze on drawdowns of fees related to individual students if it is agreed that their enrolment will be put on hold, even if the PTE is continuing to deliver the course they are enrolled in online to other students. This is discussed more under the Refunds section below.

If a PTE can keep delivering part of its course but not all of it, or delivery is slower than it would usually be in a face-to-face setting, drawdowns can continue at the usual rate for now. However, NZQA will regularly review the situation and may give further direction about this at a later date, either sector-wide or to individual PTEs, depending on the circumstances.

PTEs that are pausing or slowing down delivery need to inform both their trustee and NZQA as soon as possible. Please email NZQA at covid19.enquiries@nzqa.govt.nz to let us know.

What will happen to students’ accommodation and living expense funds that are held in trust?

Drawdowns must continue for accommodation and living expense payments, whether or not tuition is continuing.

Payments for accommodation need to be made in line with the student’s contract with the accommodation provider.

How will COVID-19 affect PTEs’ drawdowns from a static trust?

The PTE will calculate the MLA and the trustee will check it in the usual way. The calculation includes the remaining course delivery time for each student. If the PTE has temporarily paused delivery to students, this will need to be accounted for in the MLA calculation. The PTE will also need to review its future student forecast.

If the provider has more than enough money in its static trust, it can go ahead and request a drawdown of any extra. As usual, the trustee will check the MLA carefully and let NZQA know about the drawdown.

As long as there is always enough money in the static trust to cover the MLA and protect students, we will allow PTEs to request drawdowns more often than usual. This will give PTEs more flexibility while COVID-19 is causing disruption. We will let PTEs know when drawdowns need to return to normal frequency.

Refunds

What refund would a student at a PTE usually be entitled to, if they choose to withdraw from their course?

Each student has a ‘refund period’ for their course. The refund period depends on whether the student is domestic or international, and how long their course is. Refund periods range from two calendar days to ten working days.

If a student withdraws after the refund period for their course has ended, they are not entitled to any refund (unless specified otherwise in the PTE’s own refund policy: some PTEs choose to exceed minimum statutory refund requirements in their policies). A PTE might also choose to give a refund to a student for compassionate reasons, but they are not required to do this.

If a student withdraws before the end of the refund period, the refund amount depends on the length of their course. These amounts are explained on the NZQA website.

The refund is returned to its source – either the student/their guardian (if they paid directly) or Studylink (if paid by student loan).

If a student wants to withdraw from their course because of COVID-19, would they get a refund?

If the PTE keeps delivering the student’s course, even if it is delivered differently (e.g. online), the same refund entitlements as usual apply. In other words, if the student’s refund period has ended, the PTE doesn’t have to give the student a refund if the student chooses to withdraw (unless specified otherwise in the PTE’s refund policy). However, we recommend that PTEs review students’ individual situations and carefully consider whether a refund would be appropriate.

The PTE’s refund decision should take into consideration:

  • changes that have had to be made to the course and, in particular, the extent to which the changed delivery meets the contractual obligations that the PTE committed to when the student first enrolled
  • any barriers to the student engaging fully with the course in its changed format (technology, caring responsibilities, literacy, disability, or personal issues)
  • changes to the student’s personal circumstances as a result of COVID-19 (illness, loss of employment, family circumstances, reduced income, mental health).

If a student chooses to withdraw before their expected start date (or any time before their refund period ends), a PTE could consider giving a higher refund because of the COVID-19 situation. This might mean, for example, giving the student a full refund (including the proportion that the PTE would usually be allowed to keep).

PTEs may wish to explore possibilities other than withdrawal with the student, such as putting their studies on hold or changing to a different course. If the student and PTE agree to put the student’s studies on hold, the fees should be held in trust until the student recommences their studies.

What are the visa implications for international students of withdrawing from their course or putting their studies on hold?

Immigration New Zealand has provided COVID-19 information on its website.

If an international student withdraws from their course, the PTE must notify Immigration New Zealand (INZ) by completing the termination form online.

If an international student requests to put their enrolment on hold and the PTE agrees to this, the PTE must also notify INZ. An online form to allow PTEs to notify INZ of deferred enrolments is currently underway. In the meantime PTEs can notify INZ by emailing educationproviders@mbie.govt.nz.

If COVID-19 has prevented an international student from coming to New Zealand to start their course, can they get a refund?

If the student withdraws before their expected start date (or any time before their refund period ends), they are entitled to the usual refund. PTEs could consider giving such students a higher refund than usual, or a full refund, in recognition that circumstances out of their control have prevented the students from starting their course.

If the student’s refund period has already ended and they were unable to start their course due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, NZQA expects the PTE to be fair and reasonable in deciding how much to refund the student. PTEs should all have a refund policy that covers what happens if a student’s visa is declined: this is a similar situation and the PTE should refund at least that amount to the student.

With the changes that are currently happening because of COVID-19, what should a PTE tell its students about refunds?

Current students should already know about their PTE’s refund policy, because PTEs have to make sure every student receives and understands the refund policy before they enrol.

We recommend that PTEs now remind students about their refund policy and explain whether (and how) there are any changes to it because of COVID-19.

Permanent PTE and Course Closures

Will a student get a refund if their course (or PTE) closes permanently because of COVID-19?

Some PTEs might find it difficult to continue operating: for example, if they can’t move to online delivery or if their staffing is affected by COVID-19. This could mean that they have to permanently close either their whole organisation or some of their courses.

If a PTE or some of its courses have to close permanently, NZQA will work with the PTE and its trustee to make sure that students receive a refund for the remaining portion of their study.

 
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