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A decline in student rolls led by an almost 10% drop in domestic first-year students is ''by no means a disaster'', the University of Otago says.
Equivalent full-time students at university were down by 469 compared with March last year, vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne said yesterday.
A drop of 350 equivalent full-time students (Efts) in domestic first-year enrolments led the decline, despite modest growth in postgraduate numbers.
Otago University's 2015 budget forecast Efts to lift by 1% - in what would have been the first increase in Efts since numbers peaked in 2010 - but a ''key forecasting assumption'' was first-year numbers remaining ''steady''.
The decline in domestic first-years heavily offset a 26 Efts growth in international first-year enrolments.
Prof Hayne said the figures were not causing panic for the university and the decline was expected to ease to 405 Efts by year's end.
''The university has been very well managed for a very long time,'' she said.
''This is by no means a disaster.
''The projected shortfall in income is less than 1% of the total budget.''
While ''health sciences has pretty much held its own'', declines were seen in commerce, humanities and sciences, she said.
The decline in Efts did not mean programmes or jobs were at risk.
A number of factors had caused the decline, she said.
A smaller school-leaving cohort and strong economy were two factors the university believed contributed to the decline and it was not yet clear how it measured against other institutions.
Provisional figures from NZQA, show 20,578 secondary school pupils achieved University Entrance last year, down from 24,940 in 2013.
Only 58.3% of those who attempted University Entrance passed last year under a tightened regime.
That was the lowest number since NCEA was implemented in 2002 and well down on the 70.6% who passed in 2013.
But Prof Hayne said the university had not altered its strict adherence to only accepting students who passed university entrance and would not ''as long as I'm vice-chancellor''.
''The university has had a very clear strategy around quality - quality in students, quality in staff and quality in buildings,'' she said.
To that end, the university counted 80 duxes among this year's intake.
Postgraduate students had climbed, which also reflected the university's pursuit of quality, she said.
''The calibre of [this year's] cohort - as measured by its level of attainment at NCEA Level 3 - is much higher on average,'' she said.
The Otago Daily Times understands aggressive marketing by Victoria University and University of Waikato had also dented Otago's first-year numbers.
Prof Hayne said she could not comment on the matter.
But Otago University would focus on attracting students in the fields of commerce, humanities and sciences.
Prof Hayne said: ''We need to go out and find the best and brightest in New Zealand and abroad who want to do commerce, humanities and sciences''.
University of Otago enrolments at March 22 (compared with March 2014)
• Overall enrolments down by 469 equivalent full-time students (2.7%) to 17,172 Efts.
• Domestic enrolments down by 411 Efts (2.5%) to 16,046, due to a 350 Efts drop in first-year enrolments.
• International full fee enrolments down by 59 Efts (5.0%) to 1125, but international first-year enrolments up by 26 Efts.
• Postgraduate enrolments up by 90 Efts (3.4%) to 2728.