5 Dec 2017

Free fees for first-time students, but who exactly is eligible?

11:14 am on 5 December 2017

Are you eligible?


Jacinda Ardern during a visit to Victoria University in September.

Jacinda Ardern during a visit to Victoria University in September. Photo: AFP

The Government has released the full details of its tertiary plan, which includes its campaign promise to give first-time students a free year of study or training.

Free tertiary education was one of Labour’s major sweeteners on the campaign trail. The party said it would offer three free years of tertiary study by 2024.

Last month, it was announced student allowances and living cost payments would be boosted by $50 per week, affecting about 130,000 students.

Today, Education Minister Chris Hipkins has outlined the plan for next year.

In terms of new info, Hipkins said about 80,000 people would be eligible for free study or training next year. Of that group, 50,000 are expected to train or study at a polytechnic or a wānanga, as an industry trainee, or at a private training establishment.

New Zealanders who finished school in 2017, or will finish school next year, qualify. As does anyone who has done less than half a full-time year of education or training.

Last month, he confirmed Australians would be eligible for fees-free study if they had lived in New Zealand for at least three years. Less than that, and they would have to pay domestic fees.

The Government expects its policy will mean about 2000 extra students will study or train next year. That’s about 3 percent of the total number of full-time students. It has budgeted up to $380 million for its new tertiary policies.

Chris Hipkins.

Chris Hipkins. Photo: RNZ/Richard Tindiller

Two days ago, National Party tertiary education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said the Government’s silence on its fees-free policy was “deafening”.

Today, Hipkins responded: “I appreciate that enrolled and prospective learners have had to wait some time before seeing the final details of the fees-free policy and I thank them for their patience; however, I’m sure learners will be happy with the result.”

The Government wants to provide as many people as possible with the incentive to “keep learning”, he said

The Tertiary Education Commission, with help from the ministries of Social Development and Education, and Inland Revenue, will be responsible for the policy.

The Wireless interviewed the minister early last month, and asked him whether he thought introducing free fees would dilute the quality of courses on offer, essentially making certain qualifications less valuable.

He said evidence shows that as the number of people studying tertiary courses has increased over the past few decades, as has their average earnings. “That doesn’t diminish as the number of qualified people increases.”

In 2013, National announced that student loan defaulters could be arrested at the border in an attempt to crack down on debt.

Hipkins told us that’s not the message he wants to send: “At the moment it’s a huge disincentive for New Zealanders to come home.”

He said the Government is looking into how they can help borrowers living overseas “get square again”.

People can find out if they’re eligible with their national student number here.

The Government will release its Cabinet papers on its policies here.