Ruth is the human interest reporter and a photographer for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Mixed views on free study pledge

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Labour leader Andrew Little.
Labour leader Andrew Little.

Bay leaders are divided in their opinions on the benefits of Labour's new multi-billion dollar policy to provide every New Zealander with three years of free tertiary education.

Party leader Andrew Little announced the long-term "working futures" plan on Sunday during a State of the Nation speech in Auckland. The scheme would stretch over three terms of a Labour government.

It would provide three years of free post-school education over a person's lifetime and could be used for any training, apprenticeship or higher education approved by NZQA.

We can't allow our kids to start life with a huge debt hung around their neck most of their working life. It's not a good start.
Tommy Wilson

It would include fulltime or part-time study and would not have to be used at once.

It would cost $265 million in the first year and $1.2 billion once fully implemented in 2025.

Mr Little said the plan was designed with the future of an automated workforce in mind.

Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust Social Services director Tommy Wilson said it was time for all New Zealanders to have the opportunity to be tertiary educated.

"It's not only good for them [the students], it's good for everybody. Education is the only answer to every problem that we see.

"We can't allow our kids to start life with a huge debt hung around their neck most of their working life. It's not a good start."

Read more: School year begins for Bay students

Otumoetai College principal Dave Randle said he saw advantages and disadvantages to the scheme for those who could not afford tertiary education.

"I know a lot more people who would appreciate a tax cut than free tertiary. Having it totally free, I do question that. How many people will take advantage of that?

"At the moment there is a real feeling when you go to university it costs you so you have that commitment to your academic studies. Rather than this which is paid for so the effort isn't there."

Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller said the New Zealand education system had been working adequately for a number of years.

Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller. Photo/file
Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller. Photo/file

"We have had 23 years of student loan scheme, and 11 years of that being interest-free. We've had results in terms of Maori, Pacific Island and general populous achievement. It's working really well."

Mr Muller thought Mr Little's idea was unnecessary.

"The question should be are tertiary institutes teaching the right courses which enable people to be resilient in today's modern work force?"

Act leader David Seymour said if the policy was introduced, it would lower the quality of education.

He said the "tumble" in world rankings and interest-free loans were connected, quoting statistics that showed since 2006 the University of Auckland had fallen from 46th to 82nd and the University of Otago to 173rd from 79th.

"Labour's approach to education is funding for votes, and quality be damned," he said.

"Moreover, students will have no skin in the game. Right now the deal is: you back yourself, borrow a quarter of your course cost and the taxpayer picks up the remaining three quarters.

"Labour are now saying the taxpayer pays the lot.

"With Labour everybody will have a certificate, it just might not be a very good one."

Head of the Tertiary Education Union, Sandra Grey, said the policy gave "people from all walks of life" an opportunity to learn.

"It has been a long time since anyone has talked about investing money in tertiary education for the good of students, and for the good of people, rather than for the benefit of business," Ms Grey said.

"This policy will help people get jobs but it will also help them give back to their communities and inspire their families."

Election promise:

* Labour announced it would bring in three years of free post-school education over a person's lifetime if the party won the next election.

* Could be used for any training, apprenticeship or higher education approved by NZQA and could be used for fulltime or part-time study. The three years would not have to be used all at once.

* Would cost $1.2 billion a year by 2025, with the first year funded from money earmarked by the government for tax cuts.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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