By: Nicholas Jones
Free tertiary education is coming under a Labour-led Government – with a student association also urging Jacinda Ardern to put an end to border arrests of student loan defaulters.
While policy agreements are yet to be released it is very likely free tertiary education and training will be rolled out. There will also be wide-ranging reforms of the schooling sector, including the scrapping of National Standards and charter or partnership schools.
Will Matthews, the president of the Auckland University Students Association (AUSA), told The Weekend Herald the fact Labour was in power was “incredibly significant”. New Zealand First and the Green Party are also committed to free tertiary education.
“At the  election and even over the last few years free tertiary education has not been a concept that a lot of parties have even entertained. So it is a huge achievement for students that a student-friendly government has been elected,” Matthews said.
“We really challenge them to keep to their promise of providing a free year next year and going further than that, too.”
Labour wants to eventually introduce three years of free post-school study or training. During the campaign Ardern announced that would be brought forward, with one year free for everyone entering study or training from January 1 next year.
From 2021 those starting tertiary education would get two years free, and from 2024 three years. The overall cost of the package is $6 billion. Labour has also pledged to increase student allowances by $50 a week, and to restore post-graduate students’ eligibility for student allowances.
NZ First policy is to introduce a universal living allowance, and a student debt write-off scheme that would give students free tertiary study by requiring them to work in NZ for the same period as their length of study.
Greens policy is to work towards free tertiary education, by capping and progressively reducing student fees.
Another possible change will be a hardline policy introduced under National which has seen several student loan defaulters arrested at the border. Labour has voiced misgivings about the policy, and Will Matthews of AUSA said he hoped the new Government would review the policy and ultimately scrap it.
“I think that policy is not the right focus. Instead of focusing on criminalising these people we should be working on how to support students.”
Labour, New Zealand First and the Green Party are closely aligned on education policy, and all three have pledged to scrap National Standards and put an end to charter or partnership schools.
National Standards were the centrepiece of the National Party’s education policy before it came to power in 2008, and describe what students should be able to do in reading, writing and mathematics as they progress through levels 1 to 8, the primary and intermediate years.
The student achievement data is fiercely opposed by education unions and there have been concerns about how teacher assessments can vary between schools.
Partnership schools are privately run but publicly funded. They are likely to be kept open but classified as special character schools.
Asked if charter schools and National Standards would be abolished, NZ First’s education spokeswoman Tracey Martin said she could not outline the agreements yet, but “have a look at what NZF, Labour and the Greens campaigned on and take a guess”.
In a newsletter, NZ Principals’ Federation president Whetu Cormick said he would meet with the new Minister of Education as soon as possible after the position is confirmed, to “talk about timeframes and plans to dismantle some of the heavy compliance requirements and those aspects of privatisation such as charter schools that have sucked resources and energy from our system”.
Another area to watch is whether Australians will be charged more to attend university in New Zealand.
In the Newshub leaders debate during the campaign, Ardern and Bill English were asked about the Australian Government eroding the rights of New Zealand expats living in Australia, and whether they would retaliate with similar measures.
Ardern said if Kiwis in Australia were locked out of tertiary education, she would lock Australians out here. That would happen only if fees went up significantly for New Zealanders living in Australia.
However, such a move may not be supported by Winston Peters. He has said New Zealand owes an apology to Australia because it has for years allowed “backdoor” immigration to Australia.
The early childhood sector is also hoping for a boost in funding under the new Government. Early Childhood NZ chief executive Kathy Wolfe said all three parties had committed to restoring the target of having 100 per cent qualified teachers in ECE centres.
“The previous government increased funding only to cover increased participation in ECE … education starts at birth, not at 5 or 6. New Zealand needs to invest more in the early years now in order to see benefits in the years to come.”
Source: NZ Herald