Cabinet has given the go-ahead for detailed implementation planning for the introduction of one year of fees-free tertiary education and a $50 a week boost to student allowances and loan entitlements. Officials have already started work on both changes, which will come into force from 1 January 2018.

The full programme of three years’ fee-free tertiary education is expected to be rolled out by 2024.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says a improving affordability and access to tertiary education is a priority for the Government.

“Students and parents have told us that the cost of study is a real issue. Making the first year of tertiary education fees-free will mean more young people can go on to study after school and gain qualifications with less debt,” says Hipkins.

Hipkins also expects the policy to benefit New Zealand’s economy.

However, Universities New Zealand executive director Chris Whelan says universities face some uncertainty about participation rates going forward. He says participation rates have increased dramatically in the last 20 years and universities don’t actually know how much their enrollment numbers will change.

“It’s not necessarily the best way of lifting participation rates but obviously it’s the policy the government was elected on and we’ll be working with the government to implement it,” he told Newstalk ZB.

Implementation is underway.

“Students, schools and tertiary providers are understandably keen to know full details,” says Hipkins. “We will make sure they get the information they need in a timely way. In the meantime they can rest assured that the first year of fees free study will kick in next year and should plan accordingly.”

Prospective students and tertiary education organisations have been advised to continue to make arrangements for study and enrolments for next year as they normally would, including starting, or continuing, any applications for study and/or for student loans or allowances.

StudyLink is encouraging prospective students to apply by 16 December and to provide their supporting documents promptly to ensure their applications are sorted for the start of the 2018 academic year.

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