The Government must concede its $2.8 billion fees-free policy has been a resounding failure with just 0.3 per cent more students at university – well short of the Government’s expected 15 per cent increase, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Paula Bennett says.

“There was never any evidence that cost was a significant barrier to entry for most students, yet this was the justification Labour gave for spending $2.8 billion on making university free for students.

“In what is typical of this Government, it did no cost-benefit analysis of the policy nor did it listen to experts, and that’s come back to bite it with Tertiary Education Commission figures showing there has been almost no increase in university enrolments and a 3.2 per cent drop in enrolments at polytechnics and institutes of technology.

“That includes no increase in university enrolments by those that the Government would have expected to target with this policy, like Māori, Pasifika or those from low-socio economic backgrounds.

“As Universities New Zealand Executive Director Chris Whelan has said, this means the Government is simply subsidising higher education for kids from wealthy families who would have gone to university anyway.

“Not only that, but University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon has estimated that the policy has cost our universities around half a million dollars because of the work they had to put into determining who was and wasn’t eligible.

“That might have been worth it had there been an increase in students, but there hasn’t and the Government has provided no extra money to the universities to cover these costs, nor to help them improve the quality of their courses.

“No matter how the Government tries to spin it, this policy has been a complete failure and arguably the biggest waste of taxpayers’ money in the last few decades.”

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