What fees-free study means to students

What fees-free study means to students

Last updated 28 May 2018
Last updated 28 May 2018

We interviewed several learners who have taken up the Government's Fees Free opportunity. Hear their stories, and what this means for them in their career ambitions.

Fees free opens up higher education opportunity for automotive engineering apprentice

Although born in New Zealand, 19-year-old Vincent Harrison spent his early education years in the UK. He and his family returned to New Zealand in 2014, and while not remembering much about his home country he was keen to return and work here. As New Zealand is his place of birth, he automatically qualifies as a New Zealand citizen.

It wasn’t until a notification about the Fees Free initiative was sent to his work that Vincent checked eligibility criteria. He discovered he was eligible for the first two years of his apprenticeship to be fees-free.

“I quickly went to the website and entered my NZQA number. It did an automatic check and told me instantly that I was eligible. It was great news!”

“I would probably still have entered the apprenticeship programme with MITO without getting the first two years fees-free. This apprenticeship is what I have been working towards for the past three years of my life and was not something I could possibly pass up,” he said.  

“But the two years free education has changed my goals as I can get my study done more quickly. If I can finish my study in the two years, that would be perfect. Of course, it won’t be very easy to achieve that goal though. But it’s what I’m aiming for.”

Vincent is enrolled in MITO’s New Zealand Certificate in Automotive Engineering – Light Vehicle (Levels 3 and 4), and he works at Bayswater Vehicles in Napier as an Apprentice Technician. Bayswater Vehicles is the biggest car dealership in the Hawkes Bay and they have always supported the apprenticeship programme.

Service Manager, Doug Fenn says, “I think it’s important that we help train young people into career opportunities. Vincent approached me about five months ago, so I employed him for a trial period. After that Vincent decided to start the apprenticeship programme.”

All apprentices are treated as equal at Bayswater Vehicles – they start off as groomers, then move onto different roles within the organisation until they start training as a mechanic, or the role that interests them. This way they get to understand the business from the bottom up – they know exactly what’s going on across the organisation.

“Their ambitions may change during this process. They may decide that they don’t want to be a mechanic after all, once they’ve worked in finance, sales or other parts of the organisation on their way through. This process also helps to develop their work ethic, and the organisation can see pretty early on whether the apprentice will make the grade or not,” says Doug.

Vincent hasn’t thought beyond the studying years at this stage. “I’m just focusing on the next two years, then I can think about what next. But fees-free could possibly give me the chance to pursue higher education after my apprenticeship without having to worry if I could afford it so soon after my first training.”

Under the MITO apprenticeship programme the student must already be employment in one of the programme’s industries – in Vincent’s case Automotive – and with an employer who is able to support students in their training. Vincent met that requirement, and his MITO supervisor, Craig Legarth describes Vincent “as a good learner.” 

So for Vincent, not only getting paid to learn and qualify in his chosen field, now not having to pay for the first two years of his apprenticeship, significantly helps him as he plans his future.

Young learner excited to follow her dreams – thanks to Fees Free

Olivia Haimes

Olivia Haimes isn’t afraid of a good challenge – she thrives on them. At just 16 years old, she recently started her hairdressing apprenticeship at Cremebrulee, one of Taupo’s top hair and beauty salons.

Olivia met the owner of the salon, Patreece Corban, through the Gateway programme while a student at Taupo-nuia-a-Tia College.

 “I wanted to learn from the best. Cremebrulee offered not only the best in hairstyling, but they also cover make-up, nails and beauty treatments, so the opportunity was really appealing,” said Olivia.

She started working full-time at Cremebrulee in December last year, and already she’s proving to be an asset to the salon.

“Just in the short time she’s been here, she’s shown a lot of professional growth,” said Patreece.

Olivia’s Mum has been a hairdresser for over 30 years, but Olivia wasn’t influenced by that and made up her own mind to pursue the apprenticeship offered through HITO (the Industry Training Organisation for Hairdressing, Beauty Therapy and Barbering). To gain a qualification under the apprenticeship scheme was an opportunity not to be missed. And of course Mum is really proud of her daughter, and the Fees Free initiative made the apprenticeship more accessible.

Even though she was keen on the apprenticeship prior to the Fees Free announcement, it will make a huge difference not having to take out a loan. Olivia says she will be able to focus on the work and study without the pressure of debt. Having two years without fees has really motivated her to do well. “It’s taken the pressure off me and now I’m really excited to do a good job,” she said.

 “After I’ve finished the apprenticeship I want to work at the salon for about five more years when hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to travel.” Like most young Kiwis, she wants to head off on her OE at some stage. “And maybe I’ll be able to work in a London salon and gain international experience – that opportunity is really exciting.”

Olivia found the information on her eligibility via the Fees Free website, which she said was easy to use. It gave her all the information she needed and she encourages other students to use it as it makes the process simple.

Through the HITO apprenticeship learners get to learn their trade in a real salon, with real people as their models. And of course earning as you learn can often avoid racking up debt. HITO manages the learner’s training in the salon and is always on standby if any problems arise.

HITO’s General Manager of Stakeholder Engagement Debra Hawkins says it’s exciting to watch hair, beauty and barber apprentices develop successful careers soon after they’ve completed their qualifications.

“The Fees Free initiative gives more students the opportunity to take this path.”

Olivia is following her dreams to become a creative hairdresser and makeup artist. That’s what the Fees Free initiative is all about isn’t it – allowing our young people to achieve their dreams without a loans hanging over the heads?

For further information about hair, beauty and barber apprenticeships visit the HITO website

Taita College ex-head boy excited with Fees Free opportunity

Kaisa Fa’atui

Eighteen year-old Kaisa Fa’atui isn’t afraid of the limelight – in fact he’s very comfortable in it. Kaisa has enrolled in first year drama at Toi Whakaari (New Zealand Drama School). For him, drama and creativity are everything – his passion. He’s in his happy place when he’s able to develop his “creative expression of the mind and of the heart”.

When Kaisa was head boy at Taita College he had a deep and passionate understanding of students’ hopes and dreams for their futures. He’d get goose-bumps when students looked up to him for inspiration. “It felt really cool”.

Kaisa had been considering Toi Whakaari since he was in about year 11, as even then he loved performing and he knew Toi Whakaari was dedicated to drama and the arts.

Last year Kaisa watched the election very closely, particularly what was happening around tertiary education. If the Fees Free initiative was implemented it would change his circumstances significantly.

“This [Fees Free] is significant for my family – for my parents and for me. They no long have to worry about how we will all cope financially.” For his parents, it’s about their son being able to pursue his dream.

Kaiser’s family are not rich and they were worried that he would be tied down with a student loan in his first year of study. They were worried about (but prepared for) how much they would have to support him financially to make ends meet, to ensure he could focus on his study. But now that pressure has been lifted, and he feels blessed that they can now put their energy into providing him with the motivation to succeed. They have always fully supported him in his education, they know how creative and passionate he is about drama and the arts.

His passion for drama and performance is in his genes he thinks, as it’s been in his family a long time. He was part of his church performances while he was growing up, and his interest grew during primary and intermediate years. He became heavily involved in debating and speech writing at school, so he sees drama school as a natural transition to keep following that passion.  

If the financial pressure was there he knew his focus would be different – it would be more stressful, and that thought was a huge barrier. Now his sole concentration for his study will be on being the best performer and creator he can be – pressure off.

Kaisa has a strong sense of pride as a student from Taita College. “It’s really cool, it’s become like a second family. If they see you are keen on something in particular, they will back you 100 percent. I can’t say enough about the support we get here.”  And he feels a huge sense of camaraderie and pride when his friends say “Whoa, what you’re doing is really cool!” and then they want to join him and get involved in drama too. He says that he learns as much from those who get involved as they learn from him – everyone has a different perspective and contributes different creative ideas and expressions. For him, that is the ultimate ‘cool’.

“Taita – they’re my family. I’ll always keep in touch with the people and the school, no matter what”.  

He doesn’t see himself as a role model for Pasifika students – but then that’s just the nature of this young man. “But if you’re doing really cool things and people love it and want to be like you, then that’s awesome.”

And the future? “I’d like to create my own theatre company one day – perhaps with a focus on social issues, mental health issues, and I’d really enjoy political satire.” But at this stage he’s open to all possibilities. “I just want to embrace everything, whatever comes my way and I’ll make decisions as I move forward, who knows what the possibilities are.”


If you have a passion, follow it. Dedicate yourself and commit to it and all the obstacles will fall before you get to them.

Give yourself to the journey and work every inch and you'll come out the other side stronger than you were before.

You're never going to be perfect, but you can always be your best, so give as much as you can give.

Fears are only thoughts, focus on the actions that prove those fears wrong.

But most of all love everybody and everything, especially yourself.

And when you do all that, hopefully you'll come to realise that everything is a blessing. Yourself included.

Kaisa Fa’atui


In the last two years at Taita College, NCEA results have increased: L1 by 12 percent, L2 by 20 percent, L3 by 11 percent.

Outdoor pursuits student benefits from Fees Free opportunity 

Seventeen-year-old Sam Butler loves the outdoors – he’s not a sit-behind-the-desk kind of guy. Outdoor pursuits have long been his passion.

“I’ve always liked outdoor education. I’ve never really wanted to have a job that means I’ll end up behind a desk,” says Sam.

This year he’s able to achieve his educational ambitions thanks to the introduction of the Government’s Fees Free tertiary policy. He’s about to begin a Certificate in Outdoor Pursuits, a level 4 programme at Otago Polytechnic. This course is the first year of a two-year Diploma in Outdoor Leadership and Management.

For Sam, Fees Free has made tertiary education more accessible. The thought of having to work part-time for a year before he could afford to enrol was a bit daunting. He’s excited that with Fees Free he can now enrol in his course full-time which will set him up much earlier to join the workforce and start contributing in a job that he will love.

“Now I’m going to learn about – and get out and do – rock-climbing, rafting and hiking as part of the course. There is also lots of theory including nutrition, environmental science and education, and psychological skills training.

Fees Free is a great way to get kids like me into courses earlier, when they would otherwise have to put off enrolment until they had the funds. A mate of mine is doing the course now too, precisely because of Fees Free. I think it’s a really good thing and I can’t wait to get started.”

Fees Free covers a wide range of courses to provide learning opportunities to suit a wide range of people, and makes it accessible to people like Sam who would otherwise have to wait several years before he could enrol.

Good luck Sam – the door is now open for you to complete your first year of study, and let’s hope you love it so much you move through to the second and receive your full diploma! 


Visit the Fees Free website.