How’s that fees-free thing working out then?

Late in 2017 the incoming coalition government announced that it would make the first year of school leavers’ study or first two years of training fees free. Student allowances were also increased.

The policy aims to encourage more leavers into study and training, so how has it gone so far?

Student numbers mostly flat with some exceptions:

  • The University of Canterbury first year domestic students are up by 12%
  • Otago University is 200 first year domestic students up, taking their roll to 17,400 students
  • Otago Polytechnic is also up 200-odd students (+6%) but reports most of this rise came ahead of the fees-free announcement
  • Other universities are either up marginally (1-2%) while Massey is marginally down (-1.6%)
  • NMIT, EIT and WinTec all posted increases in first year domestic enrolments
  • Most other ITPs or Polytechnics reported unchanged or unaffected first year student enrolments, while SIT with a long-established free fees programme dropped in enrolments with the same offer going nationwide.
  • The Industry Training Federation chief executive Josh Williams reported there was no sign of any jump in apprenticeships as a result of the announcement.

Why no change for most tertiary institutions?

Reasons include:

  • Less potential students and trainees. Numbers of students leaving school has been declining and leaver numbers level out and start to climb from 2019.
  • Employment is strong and many school leavers can, and do, progress straight into work. Unemployment is at a 9-year low.
  • Fees free announcement was late in the year when many decisions had already been made.
  • Confusion around eligibility for the fees-free scheme.

Not a universally popular idea

The fees-free policy has its share of critics, none more vocal than the universities. They have complained of the increase in work processing student enquiries, and suggested students will be pushed into courses they can’t afford or cope with.

This week the Budget showed the first year of the fees-free policy for the first year of study cost the government $260m.

And so, no surprise, the policy gets no love from politicians not in the government, and from most of the other sectors who aren't getting what they want. Many of the critics are from the generation(s) which enjoyed totally free higher educations.

Am I eligible for Fees-Free study or training?

  • Yes if you’re a domestic student doing your first year of full-time tertiary education at Level 3 or above on the NZ qualifications framework.
  • You’ll qualify for a year of fees-free provider-based tertiary education or two years of industry training

Read all the criteria here along with their useful Question/Answers