All New Zealanders who have done less than half a fulltime year of post-school education or training will be eligible to study fees-free next year.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins says about 30,000 students are expected to study fees-free at university in the first year, and 50,000 in polytechnics, wānanga, private colleges, apprenticeships and other industry training.
Apprentices and industry trainees will get two years of fees-free training because their courses are less than fulltime.
There will be no age restrictions.
Hipkins said the Government had budgeted for a 3 per cent increase in equivalent fulltime students, or about 2000 extra students, because of the fees-free policy.
He and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced details of the policy today at Aotea College, a majority Māori/Pacific decile 5 school in Porirua.
Ardern paid tribute to the officials who had worked quickly to bring the policy to life, and asked the 500-odd students in the assembly: "How many of you when you finish up in school plan to do some kind of education or training?
"We can prepare you by giving access to education or training, so we are launching here today, your first year of study will be absolutely free."
She said the policy would help not only secondary school students, but also factory floor workers about to be replaced by machines.
"This is the beginning of us meeting the challenges of the future, but it's also about investing in your future. Enjoy your next stage of education."
Careers advisers at low-decile schools in Northland have said the policy will "open the door" for many low-income students who could not otherwise afford further education.
However National Party tertiary education spokesman Paul Goldsmith has said the policy will devote scarce education resources "to the sons and daughters of the richest New Zealanders, who will go on to earn high incomes and can easily contribute to the cost of their education".
Hipkins said the policy would provide a year's free further study for all students who finish school this 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," he said.
"If you're not a recent school leaver, and you've done less than half a fulltime year of education or training, you also qualify."
Fulltime students, apprentices and trainees will qualify if they are:
• Allowed to work and live in New Zealand permanently, or are an Australian or New Zealand resident who has lived here for at least three years; and
• Not enrolled in school when your qualification starts, and either:
• Have been enrolled at school in 2017 or 2018, or
• Have not have undertaken previous study or training of more than 60 credits, except while you were at school, and
• Enrol in an eligible qualification.
Eligible qualifications are courses that:
• Start in 2018;
• Are funded by the Tertiary Education Commission;
• Are recognised by the NZ Qualifications Authority;
• Are at Level 3 or above on the NZ Qualifications Framework, and for industry training only, are worth at least 120 credits.
The fees-free policy for apprentices and industry trainees covers eligible programmes beginning in 2018 for up to two years. You can begin training any time in the year and you will be eligible for your next 24 months fees-free.
Labour has promised to extend the policy to two years of free study by 2021 and three years by 2024.
It has also lifted student allowances and student loan living cost limits by $50 a week, giving young people a $50 incentive to study rather than stay on the dole.
Hipkins said the policy would halt, and eventually reverse, the recent decline in the proportion of school-leavers going on to further education.
"It's great news for young people who are finishing school and adults who have in the past been put off because of the cost, and it provides a genuine incentive to keep learning. This government is passionate about life-long learning," he said.
"Employers have also been calling for bold forward thinking to build a future workforce with new skills to meet changing demands. That's what this policy will deliver."
Latest figures show that 22,350 first-year equivalent fulltime domestic students enrolled at universities, and 26,080 at polytechnics, wānanga and private training establishments in 2016.
There were also 148,505 people in apprenticeships and other industry training. If they are counted as training for one-sixth of the time, they would account for 24,750 people on an equivalent fulltime basis.
Details for prospective students and trainees are available on www.feesfree.govt.nz.
Cabinet papers on the fees-free and student support costs policies are at: http://education.govt.nz/ministry-of-education/information-releases/100-days