VUWSA stands by Fees Free education. Successful tertiary education policy shouldn’t be about ‘bums on seats’.

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The Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association (VUWSA) supports the Labour government’s Fees Free policy.

Despite 2018 enrolment numbers falling short of projections, VUWSA believes this education policy is about creating barrier-free education for all New Zealanders and shouldn’t be judged after its first year.

Ministry of Education figures show that enrolments are beginning to plateau. While this isn’t a net increase, it shows an upwards trend following predictions that enrolments would continue to drop.

There has also been an impressive increase in polytechnic enrolments – which challenges the idea that this scheme panders to those who would attend a three-year university regardless.

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VUWSA President Marlon Drake says:

“This is a long-term investment in tertiary education. One year of enrolments should not seal the fate of a forward-thinking, long term education policy.

“We can’t speak for all New Zealanders seeking out tertiary education but we’ve spoken to our students here at Vic, and there are students who are only at uni this year because of this policy.

“Enrolments should not be the only indicator of this scheme’s success. Instead of looking at the numbers we need to be hearing the stories of those individuals who have been empowered to seek higher education as a result of this scheme.

“Of course, the cost of living for students still needs to be addressed through changes to the student allowance, but reducing the overall student debt is important.

“The ‘bums on seats’ model is an ineffective way to promote and sustain tertiary education. We should be re-evaluating how we fund tertiary providers and what we think drives New Zealanders to want to go train and/or study.

“Some National MP opposition to this scheme is disappointing, but not surprising. We have to decide as a country – do we value education that is accessible for everyone? If not, let’s keep lumping on the debt. If so, then fees free is the first step in that reality.”