The irony may have escaped most of those who voted Labour in 2017.
Particularly teachers (who reckon the government is penny-pinching in limiting a pay offer to them to $700m over four years). No generosity there — but back in the days of the election campaign Labour was very generous in offering free tertiary fees for first year students.
So how has that worked out?
Finance Minister Grant Robertson revealed this week that in his drive to cull $1bn of low-priority spending, $200m allocated to the fees-free policy in the education vote, but not spent, has been transferred — but no, not to meet the teachers’ demands. It will be devoted to reforms in the vocational education sector.
Of course the fees-free policy did the trick in winning many student votes, but instead of attracting higher numbers into the universities, funds for only 50,000 rather than the 80,000 projected students were needed, leaving $197m sloshing around in the government’s coffers.
And there is some doubt the government, as it promised, will move on to make a second year fee-free, with speculation the government is re-evaluating the roll-out of further stages of the policy.
National’s tertiary education spokesman Shane Reti says Robertson’s reallocation showed the policy had been a failure.
But Robertson doesn’t think so. He says the transfer
“ … is simply a recognition that not all of the money that was allocated for it was being used. Now we have the opportunity to put that towards what I believe is a really significant shift in NZ’s education system towards a vocational education system that’s delivering people with the skills that they need”.
Let’s hope, then, that the reforms in the vocational education sector attract higher numbers back into the polytechnics. But maybe, like the teachers, we shouldn’t hold our breaths.