Fees-free tertiary education and industry training will become a reality for around 80,000 people next year.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced today that the Government has made good on its 100-day promise of delivering the first year of fees-free post school training and education and industry training from 1 January next year.

“Of the about 80,000 eligible students, estimates are that about 50,000 will train or study at a polytechnic, as industry trainees, at a wānanga or a PTE. The remainder will study at university.”

The fees-free policy comes hot on the heels of the changes to student allowances and loans weekly living costs limits, which will see more than 130,000 students $50 a week better off.

“It’s great news for young people who are finishing school and adults who have in the past been put off because of the cost, and it provides a genuine incentive to keep learning,” says Hipkins.

“Employers have also been calling for bold forward thinking to build a future workforce with new skills to meet changing demands. That’s what this policy will deliver.”

Hipkins says he expects the policy to eventually reverse the current trend of fewer people going into post-school training and education. The government has budgeted for a three per cent increase in equivalent full-time students in 2018, equating to about 2000 extra students.

Otago University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor, External Engagement, Professor Helen Nicholson says while there has been considerable speculation about the impact on enrolment levels, at this stage the university is not seeing any great increase.

“We are looking forward to welcoming our commencing cohort of young citizens to Otago next year and I’m sure that they will appreciate the fees-free support details announced today,” said Professor Nicholson.

The Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) will implement the policy and has set up a website to help prospective students and trainees confirm their eligibility. New Zealand school leavers this year or next are eligible for one  year of fees-free education or training, as are New Zealanders who have done less than half a fulltime year of education or training.

“I appreciate that enrolled and prospective learners have had to wait some time before seeing the final details of the fees-free policy and I thank them for their patience; however, I’m sure learners will be happy with the result,” said Hipkins.

New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) president Jonathan Gee confirms that students are pleased.

“For free tertiary education to be genuinely free, it is important that other fees outside of tuition fees are also covered by the policy. We are glad that these more hidden and unexpected costs like the CSSF (Compulsory Student Services Fee) are also covered.”

He says those completing industry training under fees-free policy will be eligible for two years, which will help “level the playing field between trades training and university”.

However, the National Party’s Tertiary Education Spokesperson Paul Goldsmith argues that while it might be popular with students, the policy represents “grossly untargeted spending on a colossal scale”.

“It may be that fees provide a barrier to tertiary education for some, notwithstanding the current subsidies which average around 80 per cent including interest free loans. However no evidence of this has been provided. Extra support could have been provided for those most in need.”

Goldsmith also has concerns for the impact of the policy on the export education sector which has grown to a $4.5 billion sector, employing around 30,000 New Zealanders and helping to diversify our economy beyond commodities.

The Taxpayers’ Union’s economist, Joe Ascroft says the policy will lead to expensive mistakes.

“The cost to taxpayers is expected to be $380 million in the first year of implementation, but the public won’t get much back. The vast majority of the benefits will go to those who study and earn higher incomes.”

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