Success After a Long Time Trying: 23 December 2020

Silhouette of a young man jumping for joy with the sun rising behind him

As anyone who works in tertiary education in New Zealand can tell you, it can be very difficult to get additional funding from the New Zealand Government. In the case of The Place Where I Work, we apply for additional subsidy funding through a Government agency named the Tertiary Education Commission, or TEC for short.

Some quick background: we are a smallish country, and we have limited money in the pot to go around to all the different agencies we have in our country. I understand that fully.

We have, over the years, tried to apply for more funding in order to expand the school. Around 2003/2004, we were successful in gaining extra funding for an additional programme we had always taught but wanted to expand funding for. And, to be honest, we only gained the additional funding after I (rightfully so) embarrassed TEC by pointing out they hadn’t read the funding application for that programme, because the answers in their original feedback to us didn’t match that funding application but a funding application for another programme. An embarrassed, “take the money and shut up” type of deal. (Hey, I wasn’t complaining, especially after all the hard work I put into the applications, which we were required to do at last-minute-dot-com.)

I remember one year, more recent than not, where we applied for additional funding through TEC. We had a really good contact there, a man by the name of Stephen (who has since moved on to greener pastures), and he called me to deliver the news our application had been rejected. He continued on to say that it was the strongest application he had ever seen, but had the bar not been set to nigh-impossibly high, we would have been awarded the extra funding. Think this: we were at about 99.9% of the way there to extra funding.

In the last few years, the New Zealand Government has disestablished local programmes leading to local qualifications (meaning qualifications created and awarded by a specific tertiary education organisation) and has made TEOs make their local programmes align to new New Zealand qualifications. In this process, however, our programmes have increased in duration, which means we have to take less students in each intake, but each intake runs for a longer period of time, and therefore we have more students studying at any given time in order to keep graduates entering the industry at a regular (six-monthly) interval.

Having these students attending longer programmes was okay in the first year of delivering the programmes, but in 2021, it would cause us to lose a significant amount of income as our current subsidy funding only went so far looking after the large chunk of students who started in 2020 but wouldn’t finish until 2021.

Add to this that TEC had decided, a few years prior, to stop allowing unsubsidised places for students. This meant, if we were unable to be granted additional funding for 2021, we couldn’t take the loss and keep enrolling students until we were full (technically) any more. (I write “technically” because the plan was we would go forth no matter what; we do need to survive as a school.)

An outtake here: keep in mind that we were and are very transparent with TEC. When we started on this change in qualifications and programmes, we were honest with them and warned them our funding consumption would increase due to the increase in length of the programmes. We kept communicating with them about this and our plans from the qualification changes starting in 2016 through to the programme alignments that were completed in 2020.

In the normal funding round, I spent most of the July school holidays (of which everyone had time off except for me, of course) not only filling out all the normal paperwork that goes with funding each year but also creating a rather large, comprehensive document with an associated spreadsheet outlining why we needed the additional funding. It was a lot of work, and I was proud of what I achieved by the end of it, despite not being great at math or finances or any of those more technical things.

We found out in November 2020 that our request for further funding was denied. Damn.

However, a ray of hope.

We had the opportunity to challenge the decision. And so we did.

At first, I found the idea of challenging the decision overwhelming. But after speaking with our contacts at TEC, we discovered that, actually, we had a lot of the information they were seeking in our original application and on our server; I just needed to make it a lot clearer.

Unfortunately, they added, there was not a lot of money (if any) left in the funding pot. The New Zealand Government had ensured 100% funding delivery for all TEOs in New Zealand during 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so that meant no providers had given money back due to underdelivery or closing. A very large uphill battle indeed.

I managed to submit the information a few days before it was due. Again, a lot of work, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into it, but it was more cohesive and very much more pointed in its focus than the last application.

The Monday before we shut for Christmas (Monday, 14 December 2020): our customer service representative at TEC calls both Noel and me; the reconsideration for extra funding has been denied. We feel bummed out, but we expected it given the track record we had had with applying for additional funding.

The Tuesday before we shut for Christmas (Tuesday, 15 December 2020): our customer service representative at TEC calls me back; she’s just been informed by her boss that actually, the panel are reconvening to reconsider, and our application is one of the ones being reconsidered. Hold that thought: our application may not be denied after all.

Despite us contacting TEC a few times before we closed and after we closed, we kept being told that they were still trying to make their decision. I was getting anxious because the date was approaching where TEC was shutting over the Christmas / New Year break, and we had funding coming through at the beginning of January 2021, and we needed to know where we stood. (I also mistakenly believed we needed to sign a contract, but had forgot they removed this a few years prior. That’s what happens when you work in the same job at the same place for too long; the years start blurring together.)

Noel and I spoke about the sudden change about reconsideration. I theorised that a provider had recently gone belly-up, one that consumed a lot of funding due to the high-cost nature of what they taught, so perhaps there was more money in the pot in 2021 then.

It was a theory I thought was probably correct as they announced they were closing around the time our reconsideration was back on the boil.

Today. Wednesday, 23 December 2020. I happen to check (again) the secure part of the TEC Web site, out of curiosity to see if there’s anything changed in there.

Wait. There is. There’s a new funding letter uploaded 10 minutes ago.

I exhale, open it, and read it.

We got it.

Our funding application has been approved.

Our funding increases by 140% or so, and we can rest easy knowing we are fully funded for 2021 and beyond.

I rushed into Noel’s home office and told him. He wasn’t as excited as I was though.

My phone rang. Our customer services rep at TEC. She sounded really happy and told me the good news. She apologised she couldn’t tell me sooner — she knew on Monday, 21 December 2020 but as it wasn’t fully processed yet, she had to keep it a secret — but told me I could have a great Christmas and New Year now.


So never give up on things, even if you have been denied before. Because you never know what will happen if you don’t try again.