Most staff at Unitec Institute of Technology's Design and Visual Arts department are expecting to be made redundant as the institute replaces tutors with industry professionals.
The Auckland tertiary institute says the move is to provide students with relevant work skills, and is not motivated by cost-cutting.
The department's former head of photography, John Malcom, told Radio New Zealand's Arts on Sunday programme that industry professionals may not have the skills to be adequate teachers.
He says about 50 tenured staff will be going, including technicians, academics, teachers and associate professors, affecting about 600 students.
Mr Malcom says they're being replaced by about 17 equivalent staff who will teach half the existing programme.
He says the incoming staff will also have to generate revenue from students and the industry.
The head of Design and Visual Arts, Deanne Koelmeyer, says the move is intended to give students practical business skills, as well as encourage them to work with people across multiple disciplines.
Ms Koelmeyer says arts schools worldwide are changing in the face of emerging digital technologies, and Unitec is no exception.
Secrecy worries students
Student Marisa Vodanovitch says there's considerable disquiet about the plan. She says most of the redundant staff are already from the industry, and are experienced, respected teachers.
She says students are worried about the secrecy involved in the decision, and its impact on them.
Ms Vodanovitch says the move has implications for other arts educators, because if it can happen at Unitech, it can happen anywhere.