The announcement of free tertiary fees has lifted a "huge weight off the shoulders" of Maketu 18-year-old Jake Hynds.

The former Aquinas College student is heading to Canterbury University next year to study sports journalism. The issue of being able to afford the programme, as well as the costs of living, was a worry - until this week.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced details of the free-fees policy, which will see school leavers eligible for free fees from 2018. A second year of free study will be introduced by 2021 and a third year by 2024.

Hynds said he was relieved.

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"Being able to save a couple or even five k is really handy. We can save that money towards other things ... put into savings and go towards flatting. There's no added pressure," Hynds said.

About 30,000 students are expected to study fees-free at university in the first year, and 50,000 at other tertiary education providers.

Hynds said finding work on top of his school and rugby commitments this year was a struggle. Now he has finished school he is working at Maketu Cafe until he leaves to study, saving every penny.

"I am pursuing my dream of being a sports journalist. I've really been working hard to pursue this goal."

Tauranga Boys College principal Robert Mangan said he had concerns university papers already being studied at the school could affect the eligibility criteria for students, but this was not the case. The free-fees policy was welcome news.

"Anything that enables and increases access to tertiary education is positive. Obviously, education is our business and we would like our boys to continue in it," Mangan said.

Outgoing Otumoetai College principal Dave Randell said most students did not take Labour's election promise seriously at first, so there had been some disbelief when it was made official.

John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh said many students left for Auckland or Wellington, where the cost for a student hostel was at least $320 a week, before living expenses.

"For us, we have a lot of families in the lower socio-economic bracket and that's often a disincentive," he said.

"Unfortunately with the way the cost has accelerated with tertiary education, it was becoming a choice for only the privileged.

"From my point of view as a principal in the Rotorua area, I am delighted. Education is meant to be the great equaliser and now this will mean more Maori and Pacific Island families will have access to tertiary education."

Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology's Dr Amanda Torr said: "This initiative will go a long way to removing some of the financial barriers for people."

She said Toi Ohomai was keen to make things easy for students and expected most new domestic students in full-time study next year would be eligible.

A University of Waikato spokeswoman said it was still working out the details.

Details for prospective students and trainees are available on www.feesfree.govt.nz.

Keen to study? What you need to know

Students starting tertiary study for the first time in 2018 and who meet eligibility criteria can have their fees waived. They also need to enrol in courses that lead to a recognised qualification, including:

•Certificate, diploma and degree courses at Level 3 and above. Toi Ohomai has previously offered "fees-free' courses at level 2 and below and this arrangement will not change under the new policy.

•Part-time study – students can access "fees-free" study for 60 credits (half a full-time study load or 0.5 EFTS) in 2018 and another 60 credits (0.5 EFTS) in another year.

•Industry Training Programmes – New Zealand Apprenticeship programmes must be at least 120 credits but students will be eligible for "fees-free" for 24 months.

•Students will need their national student number (NSN) to confirm their eligibility. All students who have studied after 2003 will have an NSN, or they can contact NZQA on 0800 697 296 to check.

Source - Toi Ohomai