National | University of Auckland

Lecturer weighs in on ‘last-year fees free’ for Māori uni students

The coalition government’s switch from Labour’s first-year fees free scheme to the last year has received mixed responses from students and professors alike.

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

Waipapa Taumata Rau (University of Auckland) principal lecturer Hemi Dale (Te Rarawa) says he is just happy that the scheme still exists.

“I am happy the initiative is still there,” he says.

“My initial concern was that the minister had removed the initiative entirely.”

In 2022, 18,045 Māori learners completed a qualification at level 3 and above on the New Zealand Qualifications and Credentials Framework. The new final year fees-free scheme would be available for all students who complete their qualification except those who have already received first-year fees-free.

Dale offered a word of advice for the education minister: “Allocate the funds to those who truly need it because, if it is given to everyone, the funds will become diluted and may not reach those who are intended to receive it.”

Student perspective

A third-year dental surgery student at the University of Otago, Akuira Haimona-Ngawharau (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi), says more emphasis is needed on helping students prepare for university, especially during the final year of high school, to ensure students see out the entire tenure of their chosen degree.

“I think we should invest more in preparing students for uni through more programmes such as MAPAS (Māori and Pacific Admission Scheme), and sharing with them the many study opportunities available at university that they wouldn’t know about naturally.”

Economics student Matiu Terei-Tuuta was one of many students who benefited from the first-year fees-free scheme when he started his studies in 2022, and although he says that he would have started his degree regardless, he acknowledges that not all Māori students can afford the first year of studies.

“It was an incentive for me to come and study knowing that I don’t have to pay or work as much to save up for university. It might be different for other people not to have that incentive, for the first year being free. They might not come to uni.”

Ministry of Education responds

The Ministry of Education says it is difficult to estimate the impact of a final-year fee-free scheme on learners’ decisions to continue to complete study

“The information on the new scheme becomes available as the scheme is implemented,” general manager, tertiary and evidence policy Katrina Sutich says.

Overall enrolments in tertiary education have generally been falling since 2012, and the introduction of Fees Free in 2018 did not noticeably change this trend.

“The change from first-year to final-year Fees Free reflects the government’s objective to reward completion,” Sutich says.

“The fees that learners pay differ depending on the course the learner is enrolled in. As with first-year Fees Free, final-year Fees Free will reduce overall student debt compared to not having a fee-free policy in place. This has long-term benefits for learners.

“Eligible learners can still borrow money for fees through the student loan scheme, allowing them to defer up-front fee costs. Like first-year Fees Free, final-year Fees Free will reduce student debt.”