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Labour launches policy offering 3 years' free tertiary ed

Labour launches new policy offering three years' free tertiary education

By Pattrick Smellie

Jan. 31 (BusinessDesk) - A Labour Party-led would institute a policy of free tertiary education for up to three years for any New Zealander who has not previously studied past the end of secondary school, its leader, Andrew Little, announced today in a state of the nation speech in Auckland.

The first major new policy announcement of 2016, bar the decision not to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership announced mid-week, the "Working Futures Plan" announcement is also the first meat on the bones of the party's decision to put the future of work at the centre of its positioning for the 2017 election.

It also has echoes of the policy that helped win Labour the tightly fought 2005 general election, when it scrapped interest on student loans, a policy the National Party opposed but was forced to adopt once in place.

Under the plan outlined today, up to one year of 'free' post-secondary school education will be available from 2019 for all school leavers, moving to two years from 2022 and three years from 2025. Any New Zealander who has not already undertaken post-school tertiary study - including apprenticeships and polytech courses as well as university degrees - will be eligible under the policy, which will cost $1.2 billion a year once fully implemented and $265 million in its first year.

"This is money that is already budgeted for and which the current government has earmarked for tax cuts," said Little. "As the economy grows and the government gets more revenue, we will be prioritising education.

"Treasury projects $15 billion more fiscal headroom over the next decade", he said. Labour would also conduct a "line by line review of the tertiary education sector to ensure courses are providing value for money."

Little couched the policy in terms of the fast-changing future of the modern workplace, which by some estimates could see as many as 46 percent of today's jobs lost to robots, digital technology and automation.

For workers affected by such change, it was vital to give opportunities for a "just transition" to new employment. It would also arrest the decline in tertiary course enrolments in recent years.

"We are on the edge of one of the most exciting times in our history," Little said. "The future of work is creating incredible opportunities that we’ve never had before: opportunities to remake our economy, expand opportunity and end poverty and inequality.

"To set every Kiwi up for a better future – for themselves and for their families."

But it required new policies that recognised the likely need for retraining: "three years of free skills training, of apprenticeships or higher education right across your working life."

"Just think about what this means for the worker who’s been on the job for 20 years only to find out that their job is being automated," said Little. "With this policy, they can retrain for a new industry, with new skills for a new job. Their families will have that security.

"Think of the doors that we can open for our young people if we make it easier to get the skills they need without taking on huge debt."

"If we do this right, our children won’t have to become Generation Rent or Generation Debt," Little said.

To be eligible for the second and third year, graduates would need to pass more than half their courses in the first year. Existing living allowances and course-related costs would not be affected.

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