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Kate Hawkesby: Proof that fees-free has been a wasteful experiment

Author
Kate Hawkesby,
Section
Opinion,
Publish Date
Monday, 9 September 2019, 10:37AM
The scheme was a blatantly expensive vote grab. (Photo / SXC)

I’m glad someone got the numbers on the fees-free scheme. And hasn't it told us exactly what we feared?

That when you get something for free, you’re less likely to value it. That if you don’t have to sweat for it, make sacrifices for it, work hard, that if it’s easy come, then it’s easy go.

Data from the Ministry of Education shows a third of tertiary students who took up fees-free failed or withdrew from the course.

A third.

Estimates on what that cost us the taxpayer? $40 million.

$40 million that could have gone on cancer drugs, hungry kids, the health sector, social housing.

In fact, anything other than students dabbling in a bit of free tertiary study then chucking in the towel.

When Jacinda stood on that campus and shouted, “next year’s on me!” I was confused. I still am.

Why? Why would a political party known for helping the underdog, a party steeped in social conscience and helping the poor, be throwing so much money at people who want to go to University?

There was no targeted spend, no means testing: just anyone and everyone, “it’s on me”.

The other problem was how quickly it was thrown together – policy on the hoof, which this government has since become famous for.

Treasury was quoted at the time of implementation as saying, ‘that it was “unusual” for Cabinet to be asked to approve a proposal with “this level of expenditure without having the final appropriations before them”.

Hmmm, Treasury voicing concerns over numbers around policies - spot a theme here?

Hello KiwiBuild, hello Julie Anne and your EV fees rebate scheme.

If the government and its supporters had delusions of how low income families and those unable to attend University previously, would now enrol in huge numbers.. they were wrong.

Apparently the people who took it up were more likely to be young, NZ European students who were more engaged in uni level study. In other words, people who were going anyway.

The government didn’t go as far as calling it a flop, but we did get the inevitable ‘redirection’ of funds this year.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson all but admitted it was a failure when he announced $197 million allocated for a year of tertiary education was being “redirected to changes being made in the vocational education reforms”.

So what have we gotten out of fees free? Lots of money thrown at young white people who were going to uni anyway.

What a wasteful experiment. Or as cynics might say, what a blatantly expensive vote grab for students.

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