You know something's awry when universities are at odds with a Labour government.

Information released to the Herald under the Official Information Act regards the government's free fees policy, has revealed tensions in the form of letters between Education Minister Chris Hipkins and the Chair of Universities NZ.

In a nutshell, universities claim the free fees policy will only create an added burden to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in administrative fees - not to mention potentially pushing students into studying courses they simply won't or can't pass.

"It will create perverse incentives for students to seek entry into degree programmes for which they are not adequately prepared, and in which they are unlikely to succeed without special preparation," Universities Chair Stuart McCutcheon wrote to the Minister.


Hipkins has hit back saying universities won't be getting an extra cent, despite universities claiming the new system has increased their workload.

It surprises me that the "let's have a conversation" and "we're listening" government, is so keen to shut down the voices of those at the coal face.

In not consulting with them, is the government saying their concerns are not valid?

Creating tension within the sector, just as we embark on an overhaul of the entire education portfolio, seems short-sighted.

So what's going on here? Well pretty much what the critics who were shouted down at the outset were saying. You couldn't hear the critics at the time because every spotlight and microphone was pointing at Jacinda Ardern, beaming on university campuses throughout the country shouting into a megaphone, "next year's on me!". (Words that sent a chill down the spines of all of us who actually had to pay our way through university.)

If it's free, then, one, you don't value it, and two, you don't discern.

When I went to university, I had to think long and hard about what course to enrol in, based on what I could afford with my student loan, and where it would take me. I couldn't just pick up subjects for the hell of it. I also knew that the deal I'd struck with my parents regards subsidising my books and expenses was based around me passing.

Going to university was a commitment you didn't make lightly. It carried a certain gravitas. Pub crawls were fun, but we all needed to emerge at the end of it with a piece of paper saying we'd actually achieved a degree. Otherwise what's the point? It wasn't just something we could rock up to, pick anything, dabble in, then quit and pick up another one if it didn't suit. It taught me early on to be discerning, to work hard, and that getting somewhere costs you. In the wise and often used words of my Dad, "there's no such thing as a free lunch".


So inevitably, if you start offering free lunches to everyone, you're going to get a lot of half eaten sandwiches falling on the floor, discarded, because who cares, it's not costing you, and there's always another one.

I'm just not sure what the point is of having a bunch of extra people sign up to courses they may never pass. What's the measure on that going to be for Hipkins? More students got to study, but fewer passed? How is that beneficial?