New Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds came up with the zero-fees model for Southland Polytechnic while in the shower.
Simmonds, who was chief executive at the polytechnic for 23 years, shared the anecdote in her maiden speech in Parliament this evening.
"I did after all, at that time, have a very young family of three daughters and uninterrupted time to think and plan was a rarity," she said of her shower epiphany.
The imposition of Wellington's will on the future of the south is what brought new Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds to Parliament.
At stake are the futures of the Tiwai aluminium smelter, farming and tourism, and what is now called the Southern Institute of Technology (SIT).
"I loved my work at the SIT ... However, the foundation industries of our southern community are coming to critical junctions, where decisions will be made that will impact on several generations of Southerners.
"And I want to be part of that decision-making, not just subjected to them."
Simmonds grew up on a farm in Riversdale in Northern Southland, where she learned a sense of fairness and looking out for others from her father.
"My father was the oldest of five siblings and when his own father died at a young age, my father, at the age of only 14, became the family breadwinner. This experience, and the kindness shown to him and opportunities given to him by many people in the Northern Southland rural communities, shaped the values of his and our lives."
Her mother's sisters played hockey for New Zealand, two of them captaining the New Zealand team.
"My father, and indeed most of the male in-laws in our extended family had to quickly adapt to being regularly thrashed at tennis, golf, bowls or any other sport they might have the misfortune to compete against their wives in."
Her positions at SIT and with various community organisations enabled her to support industries and communities of the south.
"At times my parochialism and intransient attitude to changes imposed from Wellington may have been interpreted as disruptive and even cantankerous, but I learnt many years ago how important it is to push back against 'Wellington knows best'."
As well as SIT losing its autonomy in the Government's vocational education reforms, Simmonds spoke of the thousands of Tiwai jobs on the line and the "economic bedrock of Invercargill and Southland's wealth" that is farming.
"Decisions must be driven by Southlanders to ensure the benefits stay in the south. The decisions must also be pragmatic, science, technology and engineering-based, not reacting to emotive soundbites from people who don't understand either economics or science.
"I come as a passionate Southlander who will not stand by and allow the place that I proudly call my home to be adversely impacted upon by poor political decisions."