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New Zealand: Why free tuition may result in more dropouts and fails

nz tuition fees free
University students in New Zealand very soon won't have to pay for their education, but there could be unwanted consequences. Source: Shutterstock.

Following the recent announcement of the education reform in New Zealand, universities have voiced concerns that free education could push more students into applying for courses they will not pass.

The policy, put forward by a Labour-led government, provides a free year of higher education to anyone who has undertaken under half a year of education or training after finishing school. By 2024, the government intends to increase the offer to three years’ free tuition.

The financial aspect of studying often makes students think twice about going to university. As a result, often the ones who do attend are heavily committed to their studies – so much so they were willing to shell out a hefty sum of money in order to pursue them.

Naturally, universities are sceptical of the new policy, increasing tension between them and the government.

Letters from university vice-chancellors released through the Official Information Act and addressed to Education Minister Chris Hipkins warn him of the consequences of the reform, Newstalk ZB reported.

In University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon’s December letter on behalf of all eight universities in New Zealand, it was suggested the reform would create “perverse incentives for students to seek entry to degree programmes for which they are not adequately prepared and in which they are unlikely to succeed without special preparation.”

The schools also claimed they would be left with no choice but to request hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra funding in order to address the administrative “burden” the policy will create.

Hipkins, however, said requests for cash will be denied as the Tertiary Education Commission will handle the majority of administration on behalf of universities.

In his response to McCutcheon’s letter, Hipkins wrote: “I’m pretty confident that the universities receive sufficient funding now to be able to meet the cost as part of their business-as-usual costs.”

He also assured McCutcheon not all students would use their eligibility for free education.

The government asserted it has planned for the reform by estimating how many students are eligible for free fees and bulk-funding accordingly. There are plans to adjust the funding to meet current needs later this year.

National’s Tertiary Education Spokesman Paul Goldsmith disagreed with the government, claiming the Vice-Chancellors raised very valid points which are representative of a rushed policy.

“If you just charge in and make changes without any consultation at all, then there is a very high risk of these unintended consequences,” Newstalk ZB reported Goldsmith said.

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