Free Tuition Program Runs Amok 

Students16 July 2018

It is common practice for governments to design and implement new policies to address vague commitments made during the election campaign process.

This is often accompanied by a consultation process. Often more effort is placed on the communication of a consultation process rather than the actual consultation process itself.

A new policy is generally formulated by a few party faithfuls and then sold to the public as something that has been developed through widespread consultation and analysis.

Regardless of how the policy has been created, it is generally void of actual details and missing any specific targets that would allow the measurement of success. And because it has been developed through a partisan process, the policy is an automatic target for removal by the next government.

The recent policy on free tuition for public universities and colleges is one of these “policies on the fly.”

Its stated purpose was to increase enrollment in publicly funded post-secondary learning institutions. The policy was not part of this government’s platform and didn’t factor into the budget speech. It was instead quickly invented two weeks after a protest at the legislature, where university students aired their displeasure at high rates of post-graduation student debt.

To ensure the accessibility of higher learning, our system has and should always ensure loans are available for any student in need.

But this new “policy on the fly” does not apply to private institutions. Because it will push the increasingly small pool of new students toward publicly funded institutions, it could devastate this private enterprise.

Surely that cannot be the government’s goal.

And will free tuition cure the double-barrelled problem of low enrollment and poor employment prospects for graduates, or will it simply mask the fact that we’re not matching our curriculum to industry needs? Will it simply kick the can down the road?

I would say yes.

We must do better than this. We must consult in a meaningful way. We need to put new policies through rigorous analysis before implementing them. Every policy must include measurable targets, so we know if it is working. And our policies must not hurt one group as they help another.

Fundamentally, our policies must earn the right to live on, from election to election.