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New Zealand cuts funding to free degrees

Storm clouds have brewed in the land of the long white cloud. After the much-heralded announcement of ‘free‘, that is, taxpayer-funded university in October last year, in its May budget, the Labour government froze funding.

Perhaps following Australia’s lead, the action followed years of ad-hoc funding freezes, and confirmed the worst fears of sector leaders.

“Over the past 20 years, successive governments have chosen to focus on lowering the cost of university education to students, rather than raising the quality,” Professor Stuart McCutcheon, Chair of Universities New Zealand and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Auckland said.

“Before this Budget, our universities were being funded below the OECD average…”

“We will see further slippage in university rankings,” McCutcheon’s colleague, Executive Director of Universities New Zealand Chris Whelan added.

While McCutcheon claimed that the freeze will cost universities between NZD$18 and $36 million a year, Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the fee-free measure, introduced in January this year, has already saved the country $151 million in student loan monies.

In Australia, student debt – all $1.7 billion plus of it – remains a big issue, and is expected to expand to $11.1 billion by 2025–26.

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