After Labour fee free announcement, head of University of Auckland says more funding needed to improve universities themselves

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University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon says while he welcomes some aspects of Labour’s education policy announced this morning, not including funding for improving the quality of universities in New Zealand is problematic.

The Auckland University clock tower

Labour's tertiary education policy will offer a free first year of post-secondary school education in 2018, and an extra $50 a week to student allowances.

But, Professor McCutcheon says he isn’t aware of any political party policy that has focused on improving the quality of the university courses and in turn the degrees that students receive.

He said New Zealand already supports students financially with measures such as interest-free student loans and for most students, paying fees hasn’t been "an impediment".

University attendance is levelling out at the moment, after increasing for many years, he said.

"We invest much more heavily in student support than many other countries," Professor McCutcheon said.

"If New Zealand wants good quality universities, then it needs to invest in the universities."

He said the University of Auckland understands anecdotally that New Zealand students are increasingly going overseas to complete their tertiary education, with Australia being a popular option.

The Vice-Chancellor said he understands that the cost of a tertiary education does stop some people with low socio-economic factors attending university and supports targeted funding to remove these constraints rather than the proposal to have zero-fees for all first-time students from next year, which he said there isn’t a need for.

He also supports the proposal to increase financial support for those studying on long courses such as medicine.

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