Universities will be asking the government for more cash after a surge in domestic enrolments.
Canterbury, Victoria and Otago are all starting the year with between 1300 and 1500 more full-time domestic students than last year, increases of 9-13 percent, while Lincoln has 230 more, an increase of 35 percent.
Other universities did not provide figures, but RNZ understands AUT has about 1000 more full-time equivalent domestic enrolments than at the same time in 2020.
Victoria University vice-chancellor Grant Guilford said the enrolments were likely to exceed the number the Tertiary Education Commission had agreed to subsidise at his institution this year and it would have to ask for more.
"We believe that the Government will honour the enrolments that we have, even though they are well above the maximum that they normally would apply of a 2-3 percent increase of your investment plan," he said.
"I think the Government are very aware of the fact that this was a likelihood, that there would be more students returning to universities and polytechnics so there is a bit of capacity in the Vote Education budget. I'm not sure they quite expected the scale of this."
Professor Guilford said this year's increase was the biggest in Victoria's recent history.
He said it was driven by a range of factors including school-leavers and recent graduates choosing to study because it was hard to find jobs, new courses, and changes to entry requirements and programmes for school-leavers who might not have university entrance.
He said the university was still forecasting a $5 million deficit due to a 470-student fall in foreign enrolments, but it was not expecting to make any further forced redundancies having accepted 60 voluntary redundancies.
Higher domestic enrolments also outweighed falling foreign enrolments at Otago and Canterbury by about 900 students. At Lincoln University, the difference was just 66 full-time students.