Guidance for addressing students’ concerns about course changes

The information on this page applies to non-university tertiary education organisations (TEOs)


The government has encouraged tertiary education organisations (TEOs) to move to online and alternative forms of delivery. Agencies are providing advice and support. The Open Polytechnic has offered to share its online delivery platform, iQualify. TEO staff are working hard to get online delivery up and running to minimise disruption to students’ studies. But what happens when online delivery is not a feasible or satisfactory option for a TEO or some of its students?

When a student is not willing or able to engage in alternative forms of delivery

There are a number of reasons why a student may be unwilling or unable to engage in alternative forms of delivery and continue with their studies. For example:

  • There may be barriers to them engaging fully with the course in its changed format (technology, caring responsibilities, literacy, disability, or personal issues).
  • Their personal circumstances may have changed as a result of COVID-19 (illness, loss of employment, family circumstances, reduced income, mental health).
  • They may consider that the changes to their course mean that it no longer meets their needs and/or is not delivering what they originally contracted to receive.

TEOs should be having constructive conversations with students who have reservations about continuing with their studies. NZQA encourages TEOs to be open to students’ requests and be flexible where possible and appropriate.

If it is not possible for the TEO to remedy the issues that have been raised, students may remain unwilling or unable to engage with their course. They may seek to either temporarily suspend their studies or withdraw altogether. TEOs need to be aware of the contractual repercussions of altering educational services to students.

Enrolment creates a contract between the TEO and the student. The TEO has legal obligations to deliver the services that it committed to in that contract and contracts can generally be varied only by agreement between the parties.

NZQA recognises that COVID-19 has created unanticipated circumstances which are outside of both TEOs’ and students’ control. We acknowledge the strain that this puts on businesses, organisations, families and individuals, and we have seen many examples of TEOs and students adapt positively to the changing situation. We advise TEOs to be responsive to student concerns and flexible in looking for solutions.

When there is difficulty reaching agreement

Students who are unsatisfied with changes to their course, and who have been unable to come to an agreement with their TEO through either informal or formal channels, may have rights under consumer law to seek remedy.

For financial or contractual disputes, international students can access iStudent, an independent dispute resolution scheme. Domestic students may submit a claim to the Disputes Tribunal. It is, however, in everyone’s interest for disputes to be resolved amicably before they are progressed to an external party for adjudication.

Where a private training establishment (PTE) is using a standard trust to protect student fees, NZQA recommends that drawdowns be temporarily suspended in relation to any student who is seeking to resolve a dispute about participation in their course.

What do students need to be aware of if they suspend or withdraw from their studies?

It is important that students who are considering suspending or withdrawing from their studies can access guidance about what this might mean for them.

TEOs should provide as much information as possible about the potential for re-entry to the course (if applicable), and what portion of fees could be refunded (or held in trust). Students should be given a transcript or record of learning that documents their achievements to date.

International students need to be aware of any implications for their visa or work rights. The Immigration New Zealand (INZ) website has guidance on visa implications for international students requesting to withdraw from their course or put their studies on hold. TEOs must inform INZ of any changes to students’ enrolment status.

The Studylink website has information for students who have a student allowance or student loan.

The Ministry of Education website will be updated with information about any impact on students’ Fees Free entitlement.

What is NZQA’s role in checking that students’ courses are being delivered appropriately?

Students who have concerns about the education that they are receiving can seek advice from NZQA by filling out an online form. An NZQA staff member will review the situation and contact the student to discuss their options.

NZQA will also be keeping in contact with TEOs while COVID-19 continues to have an impact, to confirm that they have the capability and resources to maintain delivery and work through issues as they arise.

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