By Peter Wilson
Teachers are coming out in support of Labour's free tertiary education policy as party leader Andrew Little defends it against government criticism.
Mr Little announced the policy in his state of the nation speech yesterday, saying it would deliver three years of free university courses or other skills training with no age limit.
It would be phased in from 2019 with full implementation in 2025, when it's estimated to cost $1.2 billion a year.
Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce says it's a desperate bid for popularity and is likely to cost far more than Labour's estimate.
"It would take tertiary education back to the bad old days of short courses, very low rates of achievement and spiralling cost," he told NZ Newswire.
Mr Little says it's vital to provide people with the means to keep up with changing work patterns as technology advances.
Labour estimates 46 percent of existing jobs will be replaced by automation in the next two decades.
"I think we can afford this, and if we don't a whole lot of people are going to be pushed out of work," he said on TV3's Paul Henry show on Monday.
"We're getting geared up to look after people who lose jobs because of technology advances."
There's been criticism of the 10-year implementation plan but Mr Little says his party has to be fiscally responsible.
He's confirmed the $1.2b cost isn't a cap, and could increase as student numbers grow.
The primary teachers union NZEI says it would help ensure people from all backgrounds achieve their potential.
"The move would give young New Zealanders leaving school and Kiwis changing careers new hope and better opportunities," said NZEI president Louise Green.
"If we are to be the world's leading education nation, then this is the kind of thinking and policy shift we need to see."
Student unions and the Tertiary Education Commission also support the policy.