First in Family Policy


We remain concerned at the tertiary system continuing to underperform for particular groups and further that the targeting and cuts to the student support scheme of recent years has worked against the goals of reducing unequal outcomes as expressed in the Tertiary Education Strategy.

We are aware that international research indicates that the key barrier for underrepresented groups is a lack of understanding of the benefits and familial support for potential students from backgrounds where higher level tertiary education is not normalised through previous experience.

Accordingly we believe that targeting that focuses on “Māori and Pasifika” or even “lower-socio-economic” is not necessarily as well directed as it could be, though such groups would necessarily be the principle users of the scheme outlined here.

We are also conscious, as was highlighted in Paula Rebstock’s Welfare Working Group Report, that tertiary education at degree level is a pathway out of poverty not only for the individual but for the generations that follow – it can be legitimately described as a “game changer”.

We are not so naïve as to believe that simply getting people into tertiary education will be sufficient. It would potentially be an alien and uncomfortable environment and they might not be as well prepared academically as others, so it will necessarily involve some wrap-around and academic support programmes by the host institution. We are also aware that there would need to be efforts to identify and support the achievement of identified secondary students to pathway to higher level tertiary study.

To address these issues we propose the introduction of a “First In Family” targeted scholarship scheme. We have costed the scheme at $54 million per year when fully implemented (which would take four years), of which $5m reflects predicted fee inflation.

We have raised this proposal informally with all political parties, a number of academics in the field, the tertiary team at the New Zealand Treasury, senior staff in the Ministry of Education, and the Director of Ako Aotearoa and received a large degree of enthusiasm that it would absolutely make a difference. A recent post on the TEU facebook page about the policy elicited a large number of positive responses as well. We would be happy to help to draw together an expert reference group to further advance it.


In general the policy of the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations is not in favour of targeting. However, if there is to be targeting then we believe that it should be well-directed in order to make a difference to the individuals involved and the wider New Zealand society.

This proposal is for a targeted scholarship for those for whom no one in their immediate family (parents – including step-parents – and siblings) has a bachelor’s degree or higher qualification.

The scholarship would make that student’s first degree, plus any necessary bridging/stair-casing programme that would precede the degree, fee-free. It would be limited to those whose parent’s income means that they would qualify for student allowances, such that the individual student could potentially qualify without any student loan debt.

This directly targets what is seen as “debt-aversion” by the group who are not socialised to understand the benefits of a higher education.

While most targeting breeds resentment from those who see as unfair that others are getting something that they are not, especially when it is irrationally constructed around assumptions that are invalid or that are manipulate-able, such as parental means-testing, we do not believe that this will occur in this case.

This scholarship would be targeted at school-leavers, and also involve some intervention in the compulsory sector. It would be able to be deferred for up to one year over its course.

We would expected that applications for the scholarship would involve supporting documentation from the secondary school and an assessment of the suitability of the applicant from the tertiary provider.


We have focused on degree-level qualifications because they offer the greatest return on a student’s investment, especially their time, and therefore are more likely to give effect to a step change in a family’s circumstances. Further, we understand that there is evidence that they alone will be an intergenerational game changer. This is supported by research including that of the Welfare Working Group, which we were disappointed to not see reflected in a reconsideration of limitation of the assistance available for job seekers to access higher education.

The degrees need not only be at universities and we would expect that the scholarships would be able to be used at a range of institutions, but that the institutions would need to demonstrate that they had programmes in place to identify appropriate students through arrangements with secondary schools, and give the necessary pastoral and academic support through transition and degree-level study.

The scholarship recipients would need to achieve university entrance, or be at a level where they could, through a preparatory programme, staircase to university entrance level. This would involve intervention at secondary schools to ensure that students were being identified and given the right sort of advice – for example to do sufficiently academic NCEA credits – and to set their sights high enough.

Wrap Around Support

In addition to the appropriate identification of the student there is little point in placing someone in an environment that is unfamiliar to them or any of their immediate family, who may not be as academically well-prepared as their peers, and simply expecting them to succeed.

In order for tertiary institutions to be approved as recipients of FIF scholarship-supported students they will need to demonstrate that they can provide appropriate support, as most tertiary education institutions will already be able to do. It would be mandatory for FIF scholarship students to access the support that has been assessed and agreed is appropriate for them. This would be codified through an individual learning agreement attached to the scholarship.

Institutions would be eligible for a bonus of additional funding for FIF students who complete their qualification within the terms of the scholarship (including the possibility of deferral). This would be initially set at $5000 per completion and it would be expected that the institution would apply this to providing the support required and covering the additional compliance costs of reporting on the achievement of their FIF students. This would not affect current equity funding although it acknowledged that there is likely to be a cross-over between the students covered by that scheme and this one.

This programme would be linked in with initiatives to improve educational outcome for lower-socio-economic groups, such as the University of Auckland’s Starpath programme and the Ma le Pasifika project. Thereby ensuring that improving secondary school outcomes flows through into higher participation in higher education.


For this to make a difference it needs to be bold and of sufficient scale for institutions to be able to provide aggregated – if individually tailored – support resources.

We believe this means 2000 scholarships per year will be needed.

2000 scholarships at $6000 per year is $12 million per year, rising to $40 million (plus increases in fees) by the fourth year assuming that half will need a one year bridging programme, or an extra 12 months to complete, and that there is a dropout rate of 5%.

We have not costed allowances as these students would have been eligible for them regardless of whether or not they held this particular scholarship.

The completion bonus for institutions would cost $10 million from the fourth year (inflation adjusted), and for every year after that, assuming 100% completion (which is desirable but unlikely for obvious reasons).

Cost of the scheme if implemented for 2015 (millions) including fee increases @ 4% and inflation adjustments of the completion bonus at 2%.








Fees scholarships







Completion bonuses
























The voice of New Zealand's 400,000 students.

The New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations exists to advance the political, social and economic interests of tertiary students whatever they study and wherever they live. NZUSA is a membership body of local students' associatons. We believe in opportunity for all.

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