The third biggest chunk of government spending, after benefits and health, goes to education. The current government's fees-free programme pays for up to two years of university or training, and it has also started paying employers to take on apprentices. But these schemes have been criticised by some parties, who say they are an extravagance that will indebt future generations.
Early childhood education
Early childhood education (ECE) is outside of the NZ public education system and is funded by a patchwork of subsidies. Pay for ECE teachers and staff is a perennial issue. People who argue for comprehensive funding say that high quality ECE for all children is a public good.
Soon after the last election, the current government got rid of charter schools, which critics argued were an attempt to privatise the education system and undermine teacher unions. Parties on the right continue to advocate greater involvement of private enterprise in education and say it will increase choice for parents and teachers.
Trades and vocational education
The vocational education sector is undergoing big changes, with the current government merging sixteen institutes of technology and polytechnics to form the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology. In the wake of Covid-19, the current government has also made some trades training free for the next two years.
Tertiary education and research
Closure of the border cut off income from foreign students, causing a funding crisis in tertiary education. These shortfalls highlight longer-term controversies about the way tertiary education and research gets funded and prioritised.
Tertiary fees and student support
Currently, the first year of tertiary education and up to two years of training are free under the current government's fees-free policy. Critics of the policy say it's extravagant and too generous to students who don't need the support.