Politics puts Aussie uni fees hike for NZers on hold

Jacinda Ardern on the campaign trail at Auckland University last month. (Photo: RNZ/Craig McCulloch)

Phil Pennington – Radio NZ 

The Australian Government has been forced to shelve university funding plans that would have doubled or tripled tuition fees for New Zealanders.

During the election campaign Jacinda Ardern – now the incoming Prime Minister – had threatened to retaliate if the fee hike went ahead.

She said during an election debate that if Australia “lock us out of tertiary education, we will lock them out of it here”.

That will not be necessary now, after a small bloc in the Australian Senate led by Nick Xenophon torpedoed the wide-ranging plans aimed at saving almost $3 billion, calling instead for a full review of higher education.

The plans included cutting subsidies for most permanent residents and New Zealand citizens and instead charging them full fees at its universities, at the same time as allowing them to draw student loans.

This came a day after the federal government suffered the derailing of its plans to make permanent residents wait four years before they became eligible for citizenship.

“Praise God, that’s fallen over as well!” said a Maria Dunn, an expat and aged-care worker in Brisbane who’s lived in Australia for 15 years.

However, her family remains in turmoil because they had already had to face the prospect of 17-year-old Ayla leaving home to go to New Zealand for vet school.

“She really was not keen on the idea of having to come to New Zealand to do her tertiary education.

“It’s thrown her so bad that mentally she’s like ‘I don’t know whether I want to do that science anymore’. It’s really just thrown her for a loop so at this stage she’s going to take a ‘gap’ year.”

(Photo: 123rf.com)

Kaitlin Naughton, as an existing doctorate student in climate science at New South Wales University, would have escaped any fee hike that hit new students if the now-stymied changes had converted New Zealand citizens into international students.

“I wouldn’t have been directly impacted, but having seen firsthand the stress that international students go through … I’m very relieved that especially Kiwis who’ve lived in Australia since childhood …. to be able to study in the country they have called home for almost their entire lives … is really important and we should preserve that.”

International doctorate students got scholarships, but if their study took longer than expected these could run out and expose them to big costs, she said.

This made students more likely to choose “easy” research so they could be sure to finish in time, even if it was not as good for their career.

The fee-hike plan had already been judged discriminatory by an Australian parliamentary committee in a non-binding ruling in August. It is the second time in three years the Australian government has been forced to scrap major higher education funding cuts.

[ Read the Radio NZ article].

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