26 June 2018
Fees-free: we’re getting it all wrong
The New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) is challenging the assertion that a 0.3 percent increase in tertiary enrolments this year means that fees-free has been a failure. The Government introduced free fees for the first year of tertiary education and training on 1 January 2018.
‘We’re forgetting what this policy is ultimately about – making education accessible for all,’
says National President Jonathan Gee.
‘The measure of success needs to be more than just increased enrolments, but also increased diversity in tertiary education. For example, if we have more students who are Māori, Pasifika, older, have disabilities, or are the first in their family to engage in tertiary study, then that would equal success.’
Gee says that claiming failure of the policy after only 6 months of implementation is unhelpful.
‘You cannot evaluate a policy after just 6 months. The benefits of free tertiary education will take time to be realised. Less student debt means that when fees-free students graduate they’ll be better equipped to get on with their lives quicker including buying a home, having kids and saving for their retirement.’
‘Fees-free also sends a message to potential students (and their parents) that tertiary education is a worthy investment. This is particularly relevant for those from families with no tertiary education background or in the regions. Education is the great social leveller and we all have a right to take part in it.’
Gee says free tertiary education is only one part of the vision for an accessible education for all.
‘Free tertiary education, like any other policy, is no silver bullet. If a more accessible education is our goal then there is more we can do, such as improving careers education, as well as celebrating those who decide to learn rather than earn for a few years to make a greater contribution to New Zealand.’