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No influx as NZ unis offer first year free

author:Weekend Australian

There is no sign that abolishing fees for first-year university students in New Zealand has increased enrolments, institutions say, as the country’s peak university body says the $NZ600 million ($564m) cost of the policy could be better spent on improving the quality of education.

All New Zealanders who have done less than half a full-time year of post-school education or training will be eligible to study for free from this year after Labour Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern implemented her government’s election promise.

Education Minister Chris ­Hipkins said in December last year that the government was budgeting for a 3 per cent rise in full-time tertiary students because of the policy, but universities say they cannot attribute any increase in students because of the fee abolition.

Pam Thorburn, director of student academic services at Victoria University of Wellington, said this year’s domestic enrolments were “slightly ahead” of last year.

But she added: “We haven’t seen any enrolment changes that we could attribute to the fees-free policy, but given that enrolment was under way before the policy was implemented any impact will likely become more evident in the future.”

The University of Auckland had a 5 per cent increase in starting domestic students to 5330 this year compared with last but said the rise was “within the normal annual variations and more a result of active recruitment strategies, and the increased number of 2017 school-leavers in the Auckland region, than the fees-free policy”.

Auckland University vice-chancellor and chairman of Universities New Zealand Stuart McCutcheon said the group believed that university fees — which currently can be paid for with interest-free government loans — were not an impediment to many students.

He said there often were other factors that prevented these students from attending university, such as their school marks and choice of subjects.

He said the government essentially had transferred the cost of first-year university fees from the students to the taxpayer, at a cost of $NZ600m a year.

“We operate with a very low level of income per student relative to the Group of Eight in Australia and what we’re concerned about is $600m that might have gone into raising the quality of the institutions has instead gone into lowering the price for students,” he said.

Professor McCutcheon said the fee abolition was the continuation of a trend by governments during the past two decades to lower the cost of education to students instead of providing extra funding to the institutions.

The University of Otago said first-year domestic student numbers were up by more than 200 and while the fees policy had ­contributed to the growth “it has not been the major contributor”.

Christchurch’s University of Canterbury was expecting a 5 per cent increase for this year, the latest in a series of rises as the university rebuilds enrolment in the wake of the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. The acting director of student services and communications, Iain MacPherson, said the university also was drawing more students from other parts of the country.

Weekend Australian April 2018 2012