Labour’s tertiary election policy

Labour launched a refined tertiary education policy yesterday – they had already indicated what they would be offering some time ago. Key pledges – from the start of 2018:

  • Boost living cost assistance for students by $50 a week (currently about $170).
  • Everyone starting tertiary education for the first time will get one year full-time study fees free.

To be “funded out of the $6b that Labour has allocated to education in our Fiscal Plan” – that must be additional spending on education.

This is a big push to get the young vote. I’m not sure it will have the same impact on parents and grandparents that the Labour interest free loans policy had in 2005 (that is regarded as swinging that election in Helen Clark’s favour).

Labour’s summary:

Labour to make continuing education more accessible

Labour will increase the amount students can get in student allowances and living cost loans by $50 a week, while accelerating our plan to make three years of post-secondary education free, says Leader of the Opposition Jacinda Ardern.

“Labour’s plan will mean more young people can go on to study after school and gain qualifications with less debt.

“Students have told us that the priority needs to be living costs. Just getting by week-to-week has become a significant barrier to many people continuing to study.

“Right now a typical student receives an allowance of around $170, but many tell me that’s not enough to even cover their rent.

“Labour will therefore boost living cost assistance for students by $50 a week from the start of 2018.

“I’m keen to remove tertiary fees as quickly as possible, so I have brought forward by one year our three years’ free policy. From the beginning of 2018, everyone starting tertiary education for the first time will get one year full-time study fees free. That will be extended to two years free in 2021 and three years free in 2024. If conditions allow, we will accelerate this policy further.

“At the same time, we will restore the ability of people studying on long courses, like medicine, to get student allowances and loans. These high-level qualifications are in growing demand; it makes no sense to deny support to people studying towards them.

“This policy is funded out of the $6b that Labour has allocated to education in our Fiscal Plan, which has been independently assessed by BERL.

“Post-secondary school qualifications are becoming a necessity. If New Zealand is to be a wealthy, successful country in the 21st Century we need more of our young people going on to universities, polytechnics, other tertiary providers, or industry training such as apprenticeships.

“Yet, the proportion of young people in post-secondary school education and training is falling. We can’t continue going backwards on education if we want to go forwards as a country.

“Our commitment to life-long learning underlines the clear choice voters face this election – Labour believes in free education for everyone, and that’s what we’re working towards,” says Jacinda Ardern.

Free tertiary education for everyone is a big aim. Balanced against the promotion of better education is the risk of too much irrelevant education that won’t help people get better jobs, and too many people taking on free education when they are not capable of passing.

The costings should take into account of a probable need to expand universities and polytechnics to cater for increased numbers of students.

Free education versus tax cuts, or…

Today’s Herald editorial suggests Free tertiary study may trump tax cuts.

In past years, this Government has started with unexpected announcements – an asset sales programme, a school leadership initiative and a flag change exercise. This time, the most surprising item in John Key’s speech was an indication tax cuts are still on the horizon.

That was surprising because National’s prospective tax cuts provide the fiscal justification for Labour’s big new year proposition: free tertiary education.

If National wants to argue at next year’s election that an entitlement to three years’ free tertiary education is unaffordable, it cannot be offering tax cuts. If it thinks a tax cut will be more appealing to voters than relief from student fees and loans, it may be mistaken.

There may be more pressing social needs for any spare revenue, but few would be as popular.

But in eighteen months time there’s likely to be more policies in the campaign mix than free tertiary education and tax cuts, from both Labour and National.

Labour are promising much more, especially from their ‘Future of Work’ focus.

National have been light on policies, preferring to campaign on their fiscal competence, but they are likely to announce something significant probably at the start of next year.

And there have been hints of something else from Key – addressing poverty related issues especially related to children.

Last year Bill English announced the first benefit increases for decades, and these kick in this year.

I think there’s a good chance that this  year’s budget will provide something significant for children, possibly timed to kick in next year prior to the election.

Free tertiary education that will mostly benefit better off adult New Zealanders versus something significant for struggling kids?

Note that National have already increased early childhood education options. Those who have failed in education by the time they reach their teens are unlikely to go to university.

Labour seem to be trying to repeat their 2005’s successful university education bribe via interest free student loans. Public concerns have moved on from then.

The future of kids may be a strong election policy next year.