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Fees-free Policy Gets A Failing Grade And Should Be Expelled

The Government’s underhanded change to measuring the performance of the controversial fees-free scheme is an admission that the policy has failed. It should go, says the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

Union spokesperson Louis Houlbrooke says: “It has been revealed that, buried in the depths of Budget 2020, the Government dramatically shifted the goalposts for how it measured success for fees-free. It used to use the number of new students in tertiary education, but that number has consistently gone down since fees-free was introduced. Rather than admitting the failure of their flagship education policy, Labour will now measure success simply by the amount of money spent.”

“This is the worst kind of policy making. Basically, Education Minister Chris Hipkins is abandoning any pretense that the policy is about education and saying ‘never mind the results, look at all the taxpayer money!’"

“Part of the reason for the surreptitious change is that the results for students are often negative. A new report from the University of Canterbury’s Dr Valerie Sotardi found that over 26% of first-year students enrolled solely because of the fees-free policy, a stunning increase of 425% from the previous year. Those students achieve lower grades, have lower subjective well-being, and are more likely to be considering leaving university early.”

“We predicted all of this, including the decline in the quality of education, in our 2017 report Robin Hood Reversed – How free education robs today’s poor to pay for tomorrow’s rich. We take no joy in being proven right as billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted. It is clearly an electoral policy, not an educational one. The next Government, whoever it may be, should make the principled decision to drop the fees-free policy,”

“Incoming Ministers should consider carefully Dr Sotardi’s finding ‘that instead of who students are (demographics), the reasons why students pursue a university degree and whether they are prepared may better inform how policy relates to academic and personal outcomes.’”

“Outcomes, not inputs, are what matter,” says Mr Houlbrooke.

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