National teases options to replace 'fees-free' in education policy proposal

National has announced a proposal to reverse the Government's polytechnics merger if elected in 2020 and is teasing options to replace the 'fees-free' policy.

In its sixth discussion document, National is proposing a reversal of the polytechnics shakeup, reinstating partnership schools, and is seeking feedback on replacing the Government's first year 'fees-free' policy. 

The options for replacing it include:

  • Student loan write-offs
  • Additional payments for living costs
  • Education Saver Scheme
  • Amending Fees Free to make it "targeted"
  • Lifting repayment thresholds and changing repayment rates

Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced earlier this year that funding for the fees-free policy would be reallocated after not meeting forecasts.

National's tertiary education spokesperson Dr Shane Reti said the policy has been an "expensive failure", and the party is now seeking feedback on how it could be replaced.

The merger of New Zealand's 16 institutes of technology and polytechnics as a single entity in April 2020 was confirmed in August, but it could be reversed if National's elected next year.

"National has been very clear about the Government's reform of tertiary education - we oppose it," Dr Reti, MP for Whangarei, said.

"A National government will return polytechnic assets back to polytechnics where they are still available, and return decision making to regional polytechnics."

In further reforms of the sector, National would set maximum student visa processing timeframes which Immigration New Zealand would be "expected to meet".

National will also explore a third medical school focused on retaining GPs in rural communities.

For younger students, 'Child Passports' have also been proposed to create a running record of a child's progress over time; as well as more incentives for teachers, and penalties for early childhood centres that aren't up to scratch.

Some of National's policy proposals:

  • Replace 'fees free' policy
  • Reinstate partnership schools
  • Reverse polytechnics merger
  • 'Child Passports' to show children's' progress
  • "Unannounced spot-checks" for early childhood learning centres
  • Reduce teacher to child ratio in schools
  • More support for meth and alcohol babies
  • Ensure all kids can learn at least one-second language in primary school
  • Have one New Zealand university in the world's top 50 by 2030

"This document is part of the biggest policy development process by an Opposition ever," National leader Simon Bridges said announcing the policy proposals.

"National values education, we value the work our teachers do, and we want to ensure our children are supported. We're doing the work now so we're ready to hit the ground running in 2020."

The party plans to reverse the Government's decision to scrap charter schools, which Education Minister Chris Hipkins described last year as "driven by ideology rather than evidence".

There were 11 partnership schools under the previous National-led Government. It's now committing to establishing 25 to 30 by 2033.

As for the 'Child Passports' proposal, it would build on the 'Plunket Book' concept, creating a running record of a child's progress over time", which would include input from parents, teachers and medical professionals.

To support children's development, National's policy document says the party wants to take a "holistic approach" by investing more in interventions to support parents.

"Research showing the impact the first 1000 days of a child's life has on their later development," it says.

"This includes, for example, the impact of a mother's maternal physical and mental health can have on a child's educational outcomes and the correlation between early language literacy and life outcomes."

To help New Zealand's teacher shortage, National is proposing "improvements" to immigration services to schools to ensure where there are skill shortages schools have "access to competent teachers from overseas".

That will be essential for National to meet its other proposal to reduce the teacher to student ratio in classrooms.

The party wants more incentives for teachers to return, as well as better career promotion, with more work experience opportunities for secondary students considering teaching.

National's also proposing to ensure all young people are able to learn at least one second language in primary school, through additional funding for specialist teachers and language assistants. 

National is also proposing changes to the early childhood education (ECE) sector, with "unannounced spot-checks" of centres to "ensure ECE are meeting the required standards".

When centres are found to be breaking the rules, National's proposing they be "put on notice" and the parents are informed. They could then lose their licence to operate if changes aren't made.

At the same time, National wants to encourage more teachers into the sector by creating scholarships and extra cash through voluntary bonding measures.

It's also proposing additional funding for teachers in the first two years after graduating to assist with getting full registration.

Another National proposal is to offer more support for meth and alcohol babies, increasing education for pregnant women and offering pathways for women most at risk.