Tertiary students in Hamilton and around the country have begun their courses for the year.
It is a privilege to be able to access a quality education, and for this we need to be smart in how we fund our tertiary sector.
In December 2017 the current coalition government rammed through a $2.8 billion free first year tertiary education policy, without allowing for any real consultation or deliberation. It is important to provide students the means to access tertiary education, but a free first year is not the answer.
On current estimates the policy has had no real impact on the rate of enrolments at universities. We have not seen any significant increase in locally based students at our universities.
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It is a disturbing fact that 60 per cent of New Zealand students who began non-degree (Level 4 to 7) courses in 2013 still had not finished in 2016. So merely going into tertiary study is not enough. The most important thing is students complete their qualifications. Completion, not enrolment, improves our national workforce, opens up individual job opportunities, and increases people's earning potential.
Tertiary education participation in America has increased substantially since 1970 but the completion rate fell from 45 to 40 per cent at the same time because there were more under prepared students, low quality courses and fewer resources per student. The current government is on the path to recreate a similar outcome in New Zealand. $38 million of taxpayer money will be wasted on students who fail to complete their first year of study.
With the current Labour led government suggesting that more students would be enrolling in the second year of the policy and no performance requirements being established until 2021, this policy will potentially cost the taxpayer $58 million a year from students that fail to progress.
In a rare display of a unified criticism, Universities New Zealand wrote to the Minister frustrated at the major extra administration and costs and stated that "assuming the figures are as significant as early estimates indicate (namely hundreds of thousands of dollars), we will be asking the Government to reimburse these cost."
If not reimbursed the universities would have to reduce resources used to educate students, or make up for it in higher administration costs, which would reduce their ability to spend more on quality teaching.
A better investment of the tertiary spend is developing the quality of courses New Zealand universities provide, among other avenues such as resources for schools and infrastructural improvements.
A tertiary fees policy that has seen no increase in enrolments has meant extra costs for institutions and has a significant cost of non-completing students. Such a policy is only made to buy votes but not to assist students to progress in their studies.