New Zealand students who finish school this year or will finish during next year will be eligible for a year's free tertiary study or industry training.
The new 'fees-free' policy will also apply to people who are not school leavers but have completed less than half a full-time year of study.
The government released details of the plan this morning, with the policy due to take effect in less than four weeks.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said he expected 80,000 people to benefit from the scheme next year.
"If you're a New Zealander who finished school in 2017, or if you will finish school during 2018, you qualify for a year of free provider based tertiary education or industry training in 2018.
"If you're not a recent school leaver, and you've done less than half a full-time year of education or training, you also qualify," he said.
The government also intends to increase student allowances and student loan living allowances by $50 a week.
He said of the approximately 80,000 eligible students, an estimated 50,000 would train or study at a polytechnic, as industry trainees, at a wānanga or a private training institute.
The rest would study at university.
The government has budgeted for up to $380 million in this financial year for the fees-free policy and the increase to student loans and allowances.
Mr Hipkins said the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) would be responsible for implementing the fees-free policy.
New Zealand Union of Students' Associations president Jonathan Gee said it would be keeping an eye on the roll-out to make sure it is easy for students to access and there's a clear appeals process.
"There will be some prospective students who have complex circumstances in determining their eligibility, such as new New Zealanders and adult learners".
Costs such as the Compulsory Student Services Fee (CSSF) would also be covered, which Mr Gee welcomed. "For free tertiary education to be genuinely free, it is important that other fees outside of tuition fees are also covered by the policy."
Mr Gee said provisions for those in industry training to have fees covered for up to the first two years of study, and allowing some study to be started next year and completed at a later date, gave real options for prospective students that would "hopefully level the playing field" between trades training and university.
- Those enrolling in courses that commence in 2018, leading to a qualification that is funded by the Tertiary Education Commission, recognised by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority or Universities New Zealand, and is at New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF) level 3 or above; and
- Either a New Zealand citizen, or an Australian or New Zealand resident who has lived in New Zealand for at least three years while holding a residence class visa, or a refugee or protected person, or a sponsored family member of a refugee or protected person
- Must not be currently enrolled in a school at the start date of the course or programme and either (1) have been enrolled in a school at any time during 2017 or 2018; or (2) not have previously undertaken more than 60 credits (half a year of equivalent full-time tertiary education, 0.5 EFTS) at level 3 or above on the NZQF, including tertiary education at an equivalent level undertaken in any other country, but excluding any tertiary education undertaken while enrolled in a school
- Fees-free for 2018 covers courses and programmes beginning in 2018. You can begin your study in 2018 and complete your study later. For example, you could access fees-free study for 60 credits / 0.5 EFTS in 2018 and another 60 credits / 0.5 EFTS in another year.
- You can study extramurally (in New Zealand or from overseas) or on-campus in New Zealand. The course or qualification must also be recognised by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority or Universities New Zealand, and be funded through the Tertiary Education Commission.
- You can study full-time or part-time and be eligible for fees-free. If you study fewer than 120 credits (such as through part-time study, or full time study towards a 80-credit qualification), you can spread out your fees-free study.
- The fees-free policy will not penalise people who take tertiary courses while at secondary school. These courses are not counted as previous tertiary study for the purpose of assessing someone's "first time study" status.
- Some tertiary courses are not covered. Foundation programmes (at NZQF levels 1-2) are excluded because provider-based level 1-2 study is already fees-free, and students shouldn't have to use their fees-free entitlement on courses intended to prepare for tertiary study at level 3 and above.
- If you have already paid fees for 2018 but you are eligible for fees-free, you should approach the provider and ask for a refund. You are entitled to a refund of the amount you have paid to do a course starting on or after 1 January 2018, up to the value of the $12,000 fees-free cap.