Fees-free policy a shambles

The new government’s policy to provide the first year of tertiary education for free is a missed opportunity to make a real difference in our country’s education system. It is solving a problem that doesn’t exist.

The main argument Labour has put forward to support this policy is that it will help those who see the cost of tertiary education as a barrier to entry, but then admit they only expect enrolments to increase by around 3 per cent. When you consider that we already have interest-free student loans available to all students, who in many cases are able to pay them off within a few years of graduating, a further subsidy like this is unnecessary and poor value for money.

The New Zealand taxpayer already subsidises the cost of tertiary study by around 80 per cent, and National believes we should instead be investing any extra money into improving the quality of our providers. Taxpayers rightly expect a return on their already huge investment in tertiary education, so why not focus on the quality of outcome?

It’s also concerning to note that in the criteria outlined this week, a lot of fees-free study options will include what are essentially taxpayer-funded hobbies. The government’s policy will include things like diplomas in golf and commercial skydiving, and there will be no incentive or obligation for students to study or pass any course. Why not have the policy apply to the last year of study, or include requirements to pass and attend a second-year?

This is particularly worrying when you remember that hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who never had the benefit of tertiary education will now pay more of their hard-earned tax dollars to support those who do. With no costs, obligations, or penalties involved for new students, there is no guarantee of any outcome that will add value to our economy or workforce.

When it comes down to it, this is a poorly thought-out policy that should have been put forward for proper consultation and expert opinion, instead of what Labour intended it to be: a 2020 election bribe.

  • Simeon Brown is MP for Pakuranga