New Zealand election: Students hope tertiary fees will be scaled back under Jacinda Ardern

New Zealand election: Students hope tertiary fees will be scaled back under Jacinda Ardern

New Zealand election: Students hope tertiary fees will be scaled back under Jacinda Ardern

Updated 22 October 2017, 16:35 AEDT

New Zealand's PM in waiting Jacinda Ardern's Labour Party campaigned heavily on education reforms, including a bold plan to phase in three years of free tertiary education, leaving students hopeful some of their university debts will soon be alleviated.

Wellington student Jordan Butler is nearly finished his double degree in psychology and criminology. When he does, there will be a $30,000 debt waiting for him.

New Zealand prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern's Labour Party campaigned heavily on education reforms, including a bold plan to phase in three years of free tertiary education by the year 2024 and boost student allowance benefits.

The package was estimated to cost about $6 billion over five years.

The promise was big, but the negotiating within the newly formed Coalition is yet to determine what will eventuate.

Mr Butler, 21, is engaged and plans to eventually buy a house in the coming years but the couple estimate they will have a combined university debt of at least $NZ80,000 ($71,000).

"It'll be nice once we have it paid off," he said.

"Hopefully I'll go into a pretty well-paying job and we'll just try and find a place.

"But if we're looking at getting a house that's $400,000-500,000 — a 20 per cent deposit is a pretty big down payment. We'd just have to start saving like crazy."

Auckland University Associate Professor Susan St John said the incoming Government should consider a whole new approach to tax, to ease the burden on graduates and young families.

"For people coming out of university and trying to get established and to buy a house, it's very, very difficult," she said.

"We have very high taxes on very low incomes and we also have a 15 per cent rate of GST.

"We're really hopeful this new Government will consult and take an overall view, so we're not just left with a simplistic first three-years-free-for-new-tertiary-students policy alone."

Huge uni debts 'just the way the world works'

Dr St John said New Zealand tertiary students have to pay back their degrees quickly and at a high interest rate — more than their Australian counterparts.

"The government froze the threshold at which students have to repay their student loans, currently it is about $19,000 which is an extremely low level of income," she said.

"The extra repayments over that threshold is 12 per cent.

She said women in particular were being adversely affected.

"They may be working part time for several years, if they have a family and don't get into full-time paid work until much later, they may never repay their full debt," she said.

"Only about a third of students qualify for the student allowance because it's tested on the parental income. Others borrow for living costs.

"This and high fees means many students have vey high debt."

Dr St John said New Zealand was in good shape for reform.

"We're a strong fiscal position with low net debt," she said.

"We have to start investing in young people and look at it as an investment and not an expense."

Shaun Minkhorst is three-quarters of the way through a Bachelor of Design degree, at a cost of $50,000.

"I kind of see it as just how the world works. You kind of end up with debt but hopefully you can pay it off," he said.

"I'd like to buy a house but it's pretty crazy expensive."

He said he agreed with the proposed policies but thinks measures should be put in place to guarantee students finish their degrees.

"If it's free, anyone can just go do it — will it still have the same value?"

"I've missed out on it but I think it would be cool, especially if it's the first year or first term."