UnitedFuture leader Hon Peter Dunne said the party would seek to remove tuition fees for tertiary education in New Zealand, accompanied by a push to increase the quality of tertiary education and protect the value of New Zealand degrees.

The zero fees policy would be funded by abolishing the Student Allowance. Dunne describes the student allowance system as “patently unfair”, as it relies on means testing of parental income, enabling the wealthy to receive allowances where their parents are able to reduce their taxable income.

Dunne says the zero fees policy would mean that students would only borrow living costs, rather than the crippling loans which are currently being incurred to cover fees as well.

“This would mean that the average student engaged in tertiary education will leave with the only debt against their name the living costs that they choose to borrow,” he says.

The maximum living costs entitlement would be aligned with the average rental price in the area a student is enrolled in a tertiary education provider, ensuring that the true cost of living is reflected in the amount available to borrow, rather than assuming costs remain the same across the country.

Dunne says there would also be increased focus on repayment compliance by establishing an expected voluntary repayment threshold for graduated students in work with interest being added to the year, pegged at inflation, but no additional penalty payments, if that threshold is not met.

However, the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) is warning that any plan to abolish Student Allowances would deepen inequality.

“We welcome policies which aim to improve access to tertiary education for all, such as the removal of tuition fees, but taking away living allowances from low-income New Zealanders is not the answer,” says National President Jonathan Gee.

“While students have told us that their immediate concern is having enough to live on, their long-term concern is graduating with less debt. Linking student loan borrowing to the cost of living, while not addressing the cost of living itself, risks lumping graduates with spiralling and unmanageable debt,” says Gee.

UnitedFuture is also proposing policies seeking to increase tertiary achievement across  board, including a focus on vocational training, encouraging all people to be either ‘earning or learning’, lifting the quality of tertiary teaching, and more collaboration between tertiary providers and industry.


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