Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce says Labour's new no-fees policy will take from the poor to give to those studying for lucrative jobs.
Speaking on Newstalk ZB this morning, Mr Joyce said the policy to give tertiary students three years without having to pay fees was unfair.
"People who go to university go on to get good incomes and get that for their whole lives. Students pay about 30 per cent now so it's hard to argue that taxpayers should pay more, particularly someone who's on Super or somebody who's never been to university. They'd all be paying for doctors, lawyers and accountants to be trained even more than they do today."
He also questioned whether it would improve education. "It doesn't actually put any more money into the system. It puts the taxpayer instead of the students paying a contribution. [The universities] won't get any more money out of this policy."
He said the policy would suck up a lot of money that could otherwise be used to invest in universities and disputed whether more incentives to study were needed, saying there were much higher rates of students at university than in 2008 and, on average, it took just over six years to repay a student loan.
Universities NZ has voiced concern about Labour's prediction it will increase student numbers by 15 per cent, saying it would need extra funding to absorb that increase and universities were already underfunded.
Mr Little was dismissive of that on Newstalk ZB this morning, but said Labour would work with the sector. "That's not an unusual message for universities and tertiary institutions, with all due respect to them. Obviously they've got to be able to do their job and offer quality courses but we do what we can that is fiscally responsible and we will work with the sector to make sure they can do that."
Mr Little has said Labour would use the money National was setting aside for future tax cuts to pay for the policy. He is due to visit apprentices in Wellington today to discuss the policy with them.
Meanwhile the policy has been welcomed by Wellington students, who say it will prevent future generations being saddled with crippling debt.
The Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association (VUWSA) today responded to yesterday's announcement of free post-school education by Labour leader Andrew Little.
VUWSA president Jonathan Gee said since the massive hike in fees in 1990, Victoria students had condemned the annual rise in tuition fees to no avail.
Labour's policy announcement put the costs of tertiary education back on the agenda, he said.
"As student debt reaches $15 billion this year, I'm glad that we're finally having a national conversation on the value of tertiary education to society.
"This puts tertiary education firmly on the agenda for the 2017 General Election; and I'm looking forward to seeing further wins for the tertiary education sector from other political parties."
Mr Gee said a skilled workforce would help all New Zealanders achieve a sustainable step-change in economic growth, equity, and higher living standards.
"Free tertiary education doesn't just benefit young New Zealanders, but all who wish to be better educated in the spirit of lifelong learning. Free tertiary education will open doors for those who would have shied away from university."
Current tertiary students won't receive the benefits of free post-school education since the proposed policy won't kick in until 2019.
"There's still a lot of work to be done to reduce the debt of those who have racked up tens of thousands in student loans over the last 20-odd years.
"However, the proposed policy is definitely a step in the right direction."