Politics | Education

Budget 2024: Students prefer first year fees free to final year

Many universities in New Zealand. Photo / Martin Sykes / NZME

Today the government switched a Labour government first-year fees free scheme to the last year of a degree.

Introduced by the Labour government in 2018, the first year of university was made fees free po encourage more students to go to university.

Today’s change comes from the NZ First and National coalition agreement. Act had wanted to abolish it altogether.

University student Matiu Rei thinks it should have stayed at first year as it gave people more of a reason to go to university.

“I don’t think the government should have taken the first year free away because that’s an incentive for a lot of people to study to give it a go, see if they want to study.

“Essentially, by taking it away, they’re taking the incentive away for people to study.”

Auckland University student Matiu Rei

He agreed that moving it to the final year would see people in university want to finish but it didn’t allow for those who wanted to go in the first place.

“Often the case is studies isn’t for everybody but, giving it a go, making first year free incentives people to give it a go and see whether or not they like it, see if they want to study.

“Who knows, they might want to continue with their studies and therefore pursue a career [from that],” he said.

The new scheme starts at the beginning of next year, with eligibility being similar to the first year free.

Although this scheme doesn’t affect Rei who already has done his first year, it does affect high schoolers like Shareya Mcleod-Schmidt who is in year 12.

Shareya Mcleod-Schmidt (Photo: supplied)

She prefers first year over last year due to the stress and being able to choose another subject without having it cost too much.

“I would probably prefer first year free as it would be less stressful personally for me. I think it sucks that they moved it to last year, because of the stress factor of having to pay for your education.

She says that if students don’t actually enjoy the course they thought they would enjoy on the first year, they don’t actually have to pay for their course and they’re able to move to a different bachelor’s or degree.

But she isn’t opposed to the final year fees free.

“Another way to look at it personally is, say, if you’re getting free education in your last year, it would be more as a like a reward for lasting out all of those years,” she said.

Tertiary Education Minister, Penny Simmonds said Labour’s policy was an “expensive failure.”

“[It] did not deliver its aim of more students going into tertiary education, and neither did it increase participation rates. In fact, there were fewer fulltime equivalents in tertiary education in 2023 than there were in 2017.

“So we’re changing the Fees Free scheme from the first year to the last year of study, which is a much better way to incentivise students to complete their studies.

“We’re rewarding hard work and success and delivering on our coalition agreement commitment with New Zealand First,” Simmonds said.