Some colleges are scrambling to pay unexpected bills for adult community education classes which did not achieve minimum enrolment numbers.
Both Tawa and Onslow colleges have been forced to repay funding to the Tertiary Education Commission after adult courses they offered last year did not attract enough students.
Some schools which have been unable to pay, have had the money deducted from another Tertiary Education Commission-funded programme, Gateway, which places secondary school students in workplaces for experience.
Tawa College adult community education co-ordinator Judith Havill said the school had to repay about $2500. Onslow College is understood to owe considerably more and one school in the Waikato owes more than $100,000.
Ms Havill is president of the Community Learning Association through Schools.
Tawa has 2000 adult learners of whom about 1600 are completely funded from fees and the Tertiary Education Commission contributes towards the remainder.
The commission funded the government's "priority courses", which included English as a second language and New Zealand sign language courses, numeracy and literacy programmes, and programmes for Maori and Pacific Island people and those with low education qualifications.
In 2010 the funding regime changed and the providers were advised they would have to repay funding if they did not achieve minimum enrolment numbers, Ms Havill said.
"We were all led to believe that there would be a two-year bedding in period where we could work towards these priority learners."
The whole emphasis needed to change, she said.
"The particular people that they want us to work with are people who are in need but are often people whose schooling was not a happy place, so to get them back into a school takes a personal approach, it takes encouragement and it takes time.
"You can't do it overnight."
Every school had to file an investment plan, budgeting for anticipated learner numbers, Ms Havill said.
"A lot of boards said 'this is too hard. we don't want to take the risk'."
At the end of last year some schools met the numbers in their plans and some did not. At the beginning of the current term they were given one week to repay some of their funding.
Ms Havill said the Tawa adult programme was able to make the payment because it was a relatively small amount, she said.
"But that's not the case with some of the other schools where they owe a rather large amount.
"And at those schools they [the commission] have not only stopped the payments for the community education, they have also stopped the funding for Gateway."
When the school commits to running a class, they employ a teacher and pay for advertising, she said.
The money was spent, regardless of whether enough students enrol.
Tertiary Education Commission tertiary investment general manager Grant Klinkum said in a statement that the commission had made no agreement with adult education providers to withhold funding recoveries for under-delivery for two years from the introduction of these changes in November 2010.
"It is expected that any monies unspent by a provider for ACE-related education should be available for repayment."
The commission was seeking more information from some affected schools to clarify enrolment data, which may result in changes to recovery levels.
Asked why the commission had deducted the ACE funds from the Gateway secondary student programme payments, commission spokeswoman Kate Richards said the commission invoices the schools for the overpayments.
"If they don't pay the invoice the only way we can get it is from other payments."
Education Minister Hekia Parata referred queries to the Ministry of Education, and the ministry referred them back to the Tertiary Education Commission.
Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce declined to comment.
- Kapi-Mana News