The Government says cuts to low-level short courses are behind a drop in the number of tertiary students last year.
New figures show there were 422,000 students in 2012, 2% fewer than in 2011.
Most of the decline was among non-degree students over the age of 25.
But enrolments in degree courses grew, as did enrolments by Maori and Pasifika students.
There were 375,000 domestic students last year, and 47,700 international students.