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PoliticsSeptember 25, 2023

Election 2023: The tertiary education policies in two minutes

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Photo: Getty Images

Hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders engage with the tertiary education sector each year. Here’s everything you need to know about funding, governance, student allowances, fees and research in two minutes.

See more from our policy in two minutes series here.

More than 300,000 New Zealanders are enrolled in programmes of study, whether at universities, polytechs, private training institutions or wānanga, each year. Most domestic students have their fees subsidised by the government: a first-year fees-free policy was implemented by the Labour government from 2018, and domestic fees are substantially subsidised by the government. Many students also use the Studylink service to pay for their study with interest-free loans or, for those eligible, a student allowance. 

Universities in particular can be places for innovation and research that add knowledge to the world and value to the economy, which also contributes to their funding. However, due to a range of factors, many universities have been making staff and student cuts this year due to funding deficits. In June, the government responded to this by announcing a $128m boost to university funding

What role do the parties contending the 2023 election see for the tertiary education sector? has the full version and we have the extremely abbreviated one. 

University funding and research

Healthcare training in universities is a big deal for most of the major parties. The National Party wants a new med school and more places for trainee doctors in Otago and Auckland too. The desire for more places is shared by The Opportunities Party, who say that one way to increase the number of doctors would be to make it easier for those who already have a relevant degree to study medicine. Meanwhile, Labour would provide 50% more places in dental schools as part of their promise to make dental healthcare free (in stages, starting in 2026). Labour would also fund spots for more nurses and doctors to train

In terms of research funding, Labour would continue funding to remake the current research and innovation sector and start research centres for climate change, technology and pandemics. New Zealand First would focus the funding for Crown Research Institutions to go towards the productive sector. The Opportunities Party would add tax incentives for research activities, and focus on cancer research in Christchurch specifically. National wants more research about the construction sector

The Green Party would rethink the tertiary funding model as a whole, and particularly support more money for kaupapa Māori institutions, as would Te Pāti Māori. They also want students to have stronger voices in tertiary governance. Act would also completely change the educational funding model by giving each child $25,000 to use on primary and tertiary education that they and their parents could spend as they see fit. 

The New Conservatives want to reduce university funding in general. 

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Student programmes and support

There is a mix of different approaches to supporting students with the costs of studying. The Act Party would abolish the first-year fees-free policy, while the Green Party would expand it. After initially saying they would abolish fees-free, National now says they would keep the policy.

Te Pāti Māori would put in place a universal student allowance, regardless of relationship status or parental income level. The Green Party includes students in their income guarantee policy, which would replace the current student allowance system while still functioning similarly. The Greens have also looked at the student loan system: they would increase the amount of time you need to be overseas before you have to start repaying your loan and increase the threshold you have to earn before loan repayments kick in. 

Beyond just details around studying, some parties have looked into the wider living situations of students. The Green Party, like Te Pāti Māori, supports free fares on public transport for all students. The Greens want to change student accommodation expenses and conditions (which they ran a “people’s inquiry” into last year) while the National Party would create a bonding scheme to support NZ-trained midwives and nurses who commit to staying in New Zealand (and not moving to Australia). 

Non-university education through trade pathways and polytechs are a focus, too. Labour would support more apprenticeship pathways in the health sector and continue learning options for Māori and Pasifika who want to train in trades for free. The National Party would address workforce shortages in the construction sector by continuing assistance for building and construction apprenticeships. The New Conservatives want to promote non-university careers after school, as does Te Pāti Māori. The Greens would support a lifetime of learning by funding training and re-entry programmes for parents returning to the workforce after their kids, and TOP would back a lifetime of learning through night schools. The Act Party is concerned that Workforce Development Councils, which assess learning standards for vocational education, require too much funding and would close these.

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