Fees-free policy perhaps attracted more voters to the polls than students to universities

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.



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