Help with School Tuition Fee: Free vs Subsidy

The Tuition Fee Free (TFF) education policy in Papua New Guinea has its fair share of weaknesses and threats. However, there are benefits (strengths and opportunities) of the free education policy, too. The article intends to share insights on the PNG governments plan to help with school tuition fee.

The article is not a criticism of the Tuition Fee-Fee (TFF) policy 2012 or the purported Government Tuition Fee Subsidy (GTFS) 2020 policy. It reflects on the TFF education policy.

The reflection hopes to help thinkers and policymakers refine the governance structures of the new school fee subsidy model at the lower education levels. And, also to create the right policy framework for the future

The new GTFS policy started in 2020 academic year at the back of the vote-of-no-confidence in the O’Neill-Abel government. The framework for the subsidised education policy is, understandably, under construction this year.

The GTFS 2020 governance framework is an important policy document. It needs proper consultation and drafting; refining and testing; and implementing. And, of course, it needs careful reviews during and after implementation of the fee policy.

It’s a whole process. But setting a strong subsidy policy framework is urgent.


In this discussion, PNG Insight analyses the weaknesses and threats of the school Tuition Fee Free (TFF) model.

The discussion relates the TFF education policy to the emerging school subsidy model of the Marape-Davis government.

Thought-provoking, the discussion also invokes a lot of self-searching within Education Ministry (where the political & economical threats can change the policy); and within the Department of Education (where the internal weaknesses and capacity to monitor the tuition fee education policy can hinder the fee policy’s intentions).

In the discussion paper, TFF education policy 2012 refers to the free education policy implemented between 2012 and 2019. And, GTFS education policy refers to the new subsidised tuition fee policy 2020.

Keywords: tuition fee-free, help, free, subsidy, tuition, help with school tuition,


What is required of the school tuition fee models is a thorough review of the free education policy implemented in Papua New Guinea between 2012 and 2019. The review doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or take a long time. It can be done internally, by the National Department of Education (NDoE).

Make no mistake, the review should aim to improve the governance and management of the fee policy. It should not be done for political point-scoring or to mar the reputation of any political or educational leaders.

It needs to be impartial and neutral to improve ‘checks-and-balance’ of school tuition fees, particularly the governance and monitoring of the 50% component of GTFS 2020 policy.

Govt helps with school tuition – subsidy

The discussion sets the pace for creating a feasible governance and monitoring system that must benefit all: students, parents, school managers and community.

The thoughts presented in this article re-lives years of work on the topic of free and subsidised education policies. The writer had presented the work at ANU-UPNG annual conference and education workshops in the country.

The work also represents the opinions of many educationists including the classroom teachers, provincial education officers and school principals. Many of them are key stakeholders and managers of the TFF fund at school levels.

Short-lived free education attempts

The free education policies of past 3 governments in 1981, 1993 and 2002 started just before the national general elections. A political agenda further discussed in this article.

An academic review of the TFF policy carried out by the writer in 2015 showed that on each occasion the free education policy was threatened by political changes.

help pay for school tuition
A discussion on School Fee Education Policy in Papua New Guinea | PNG Insight

The free education policies were attempts to help with school tuition from elementary to secondary school. At each inception, there was confusion over project fee payments. Schools were charging project fees because there was either a lack of clear policy guides or lack of communication.

For example, there were confusions about the charging of project fees in 1993. The same problem was repeated in 2012 – 2015 during the TFF policy period.

Tuition Fee Free vs Subsidy Help

The Tuition Fee-Free model had severe internal weaknesses. The management and governance; implementation and monitoring; reporting and evaluation; and capacity at the department of education were the main challenges affecting the success of the TFF policy 2012.

help pay for school tuition
Structure of TFF policy and challenges needed proper review 2020

There were also external threats of politics, economics, people’s attitude and technological beyond the government and education department to control.

The internal weaknesses and external threats are not fully understood by the people within the education department and the political leaders.

Therefore, there is a need for the academics, education researchers and strategic thinkers to have a detailed conversation about the policy and find the best way forward.

The challenge is to critically analyse the governance and monitoring phases of the TFF policy 2012 and its implementation structure, first.

In hindsight, a thorough discussion will add value to the school tuition fee subsidy model. The discussion points here can also help.

Lessons of 2012 – 2019 TFF education policy

The Education Department, Education Ministry and govt of PNG can learn a lot of lessons from the TFF policy implemented in the last 8 years to 2019.

help pay for school tuit
Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threat analysis | TFF policy

TFF Main Strengths

  • Established TFF Manual 2012 Framework
  • Established TFF secretariat/unit and provincial coordinators
  • Increase in access to elementary, primary and secondary schooling
  • TFF Governance and Management Structure established in 2014/2015

TFF Opportunities

  • Political stability for 8 years (political)
  • The government made ‘some’ funding available to schools to run (economical)
  • Parents relieved from the social responsibility of paying their children’s fees (social)

TFF Main Weaknesses

  • Inconsistencies in the allocation of funds to schools
  • Governance and monitoring system within the department lack capacity
  • No cohesiveness among the School management, private company and MPs

TFF Threats

  • Procurement and supplies of materials inconsistent
  • Schools high enrolments impacting the delivery of quality education
  • Funding for schools’ development projects under MPs and provincial treasuries control
  • Lack of data collection and management system for monitoring TFF funds and school data

The points in the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis are not exhaustive. The points are statements of facts about the TFF policy that needed a thorough review.

Internal experience – education department’s strength

The SWOT analysis indicated the severe weaknesses and threats with the implementation of TFF policy in the last 8 years to 2019. The internal challenges must be addressed squarely by the education planners, senior education officers and advisors of the National Department of Education.

There are good knowledge and experiences in the education department which the policy planners can use to their advantage.

In 2020, there should be no room for trial and error. It is a matter of getting it right from the start.

The policy and planning divisions have a thorough understanding of the major weaknesses and threats. Given the chance, they can establish the right control measures to either fix or improve the system’s weaknesses.

The phasing-out of the TFF policy doesn’t mean phasing-out the established governance and management structures. If there is a structured layer of implementation, it needs refining, improving and adapting!

External knowledge – key for political decision-making

Is also takes the political leaders, prime minister and education minister to identify and learn from the political, economic, social and technological threats of the TFF model since 2012. It is strategic planning.

help pay for school tuition
Education Seminar presentation 2019 | PNG Insight

As mentioned several times earlier, the understanding of the recent free education policy is important going forward. The govt’s intention to help with school tuition fee can learn from the past to get the future right.

The education planners, political leaders and policy implementers should not implement an education policy because of political convenience. This can be a recipe for more problems in the future.

Since 2017, the writer has called for a proper review of the TFF policy. If that was done, it would have set the pace for improving other school fee models. For example, the 2020 School Subsidy model would have had data for planning and aided decision-making.

Help with school tuition longevity

When the free education policy was first hinted by Chan’s government in 1981, no one had any experience in implementing the free education policy.

Even in 1993, Wingti’s government had little understanding of how to make free policy work.

And in 2002, the Mekere’s government had issues with launching the free education policy.

In all three attempts at the free education policy, the governments (of Chan, Wingti and Morauta) rarely exceeded 18 months of implementing the policy.

After 8 years of implementing the TFF education policy, the implementers (PNG Government, Education Ministry and Education Department) are well-placed to use the lessons learnt.

But first, the government must strive to implement a sustainable school tuition fee policy at elementary to secondary levels. That means that the school fee policy must be non-political and can withstand a change in government.

help pay for school tuition
Political threat: change of govt changes school tuition fee policy

Perhaps it was ominous that political changes also change the way school fee policies are implemented. In order words, education policies based on party politics is unsustainable.

Therefore, the education policies based around the free or subsidised education models must be neutral and free of any political interference. In addition, the govt’s help with school tuition fee has to be strategic and for development rather than political convenience.

2020 School fee structure set

Unlike in the past, there are more children in schools than they were 10 years ago. There are more elementary, primary and secondary schools, too. An estimate puts the number of children in schools in PNG at 2 million by the end of 2019.

However, many stakeholders are worried about whether the new subsidised education policy will cover three components of school fees.

In principle, the new school fee subsidy 2020 is not a new policy. The education department had experiences in implementing past free and subsidised education policies. Three of the attempts on fee education were discussed earlier in this article.

Before 2012, the parents paid school fees. They also paid project fee, agency fee, uniform fee and other discretionary fees schools charged.

The school fee ceiling was set by the National Education Board and passed to provincial education board and schools as guides.

The school fee instalments and payment quotas were left at the discretion of provincial education authorities and schools boards to decide within the ceiling set by NEB.

School management would do the school operational and development budgets around the money they receive per head directly from parents.

Usually, some provinces would support the schools with the development component. For example, funding of buildings or project by the school board are sometimes sourced from the provincial or national governments.

It is reassuring to know that the PNG Govt Tuition Fee Subsidy (GTFS) 2020 framework for school fees and project fee was spelt-out. To read about it, click here.

School fee policy change impacting retention?

The retention at school describes the children starting schools as a freshman. Many educational commentators would infer that both retention and dropout would be an issue if/when parents have difficulty paying fees.

This experience was observed during the eras of user-pay and subsidised education policies. But, it needs careful evaluation of the present situation to fully understand the outcome of subsidised education policy.

In retrospect, schools in post-2020 will have major challenges with the increase in the number of children in schools. The country is likely to see a change in the number of students entering (and continuing) schooling. That means that more students are likely to either leave schooling or fewer students entering classrooms.

increase in number of students in png
Increase in the number of Grade 12 students in 5 years to 2019

The predicted fluctuation in the number of enrolment and dropout can be attributed to school fee policy. However, it does not mean it is the end of the world.

What the people know is the fact a new policy is emerging. The education planners and political leaders have got to go back to 2012 and work forward to frame a better school fee model.

What matters now more than ever is the quality of education afforded to the children. The govt must do the best it can to balance the quality (of education) and quantity (of students at school).

TFF Education Policy Framework

Today, there is sufficient knowledge base and policy experiences within the education department for the Education Ministry. As mentioned earlier, 2012 was a year of trials and error. Some issues with the TFF policy at its inceptions were:

  • lacking the policy’s framework;
  • absence of management and governance structure;
  • lacking the capacity to roll-out a K600 million free education policy; and
  • no experience and knowledge to frame the free fee education policy

Having said that, the breakdown of TFF funds was, frankly, non-functional. The 3 components were never connected as a whole.

1. Cash Component (40% Funding managed by NDOE)
2. School material component (30% funding for procurement and distribution, and managed by a private company)
3. School Development Component (30% funding in provincial treasuries and MPs education program fund; and under the direct control and discretion of the local MPs.

School fee subsidy components
TFF components controlled by 3 separate parties

For more information on the breakdown, read this post.

In principle, the three components were managed by 3 different parties: NDoE, a private company and MPs. These parties are supposed to facilitate the cash, material and development needs of the schools in the country.

Now, as I write this I wonder if at any one time in the last 8 years to 2019 have the 3 parties worked together as one. Or whether the schools are receiving the funds and materials in full. Or the MPs can show that the TFF funds are used for developing infrastructure at school levels.

In hindsight, there is a complete lack of coordination and communication among the parties that run the TFF policy and its respective components.

The new GSTF education policy has reduced the three components to only two – click here to read.

TFF Policy Sentiments

Understandably, the TFF 40% cash component was meant to be released every quarter, 4 times per year before every term starts. In a recent gathering of principals, the sentiments shared were grim.

Many school-based implementers of the TFF policy attest to the fact that they get the cash component in several instalments. Not in four (QUARTERLY) instalments over a year as stipulated in the TFF manual 2012.

The money meant for schools did not trickle down to schools in full. Even the released fund did not get to schools on time, either.

The general knowledge is that release of cash for schools operations on time was a major implementation weakness during the 8 years of TFF policy. In many cases, the problem was caused by external cash shortfalls.

Politics vs Education: a threat needs neutralising

The discussion highlights that the govt MPs’ PSIP and DSIP funds – the development funds for education – had been factored into the discretionary funds. In other words, MPs had full control of the discretionary funds – an obstacle to smooth flow of funds.

Under the TFF model, the MPs supposed to support school development plans. In principle, the MPs (and their district administrators) should work closely with their local schools. This means working with the school board and management to realise the schools’ development plans (SLIP – School Learning and Improvement Plans).

School headteachers and principals expected to forge a good relationship with the local MPs, district administrators and provincial treasury to cater for the large students’ population.

So, where is the missing link in the development of capacity and infrastructure at school levels? A tough question.

Many discussions on TFF policy have raised the issues of overcrowding in classrooms, the ratio of teacher to students and many other problems relating to the increased number of students in schools.

The TFF money reaching schools were used as operational funds. There is little for school infrastructure expansion, capacity building and or development.

The government cannot leave this political threat to go unnoticed under the new education subsidy policy. The MPs have got to also remain true to their commitment to building schools.

In fact, it was a fundamental component of TFF policy in the last 8 years to 2019. But most ignored in the implementation stages. The govt in its wisdom to help with school tuition in 2020 may have to take school development funds off MPs. And, channel the money directly to schools.

Private companies and education monies

The third component of the TFF policy affected teaching and learning in classrooms. The material procurement and distribution component had received its fair share TFF funding over the years. Here we are talking about a third of K600 million every year – approximately K200 million of the pie.

teaching and learning in classrooms
Money released for school supplies component – Government Haus

The writer understands that the 30% TFF component for supply and distribution of school materials was an agreement between the government of PNG (in 2012-2019) and a private company.

The company role was to procure education materials from overseas. It also used proxy companies to distribute the materials to schools in the country.

To date, there is no clarity about how the procurement and distribution of materials. And, whether the schools had received the materials every year or not.

The key discussion revealed the weaknesses in the TFF policy caused by the decentralisation of the education funds to the education department, politicians and private company.

The PNG Treasury (the custodian of education funds) and the Education Department (overseer of the policy) may have to answer to the question below:

What happened to over K6.4 billion – over K600 million per year – spent on the TFF policy in the last 8 years? Is it really money worth spending in on a free education policy to education 2 million children?

The TFF policy had succeeded in getting around 2 million children into classrooms. Over 85 secondary schools have opened in the last 5 years to 2019. Read about it here.

Key discussion points – Help with school tuition

So, we realise that the TFF funds did not reach the schools as a whole package.

  • first, the there parties functioned independently at different levels.
  • second, the spending of TFF funds was difficult to account over the 8 years of TFF policy.
  • third, the three parts (components) of TFF funds made it challenging to control and monitor the use of the actual monies allocated in grants and funds.
  • fourth, funds not released on time to the three parties. And when released, the funds passed through proxies and intermediaries before reaching the schools.

Perhaps it is important to reiterate that the money meant for the children must go directly to schools. Not to third or fourth parties before reaching the children.

The TFF model may have lost sight of its aim to address the universal goal of ‘free and compulsory education’ when money was not injected directly into schools.

The new govt’s intention to help with school tuition may have to deal directly with schools to achieve a better education outcome.

free and compulsory education

The important thing is to make sure no one ‘dips their dirty figures’ onto the children money: not at provincial or national treasuries, education department or the school.

Achieving the Balance: Free vs HELP

The TFF policy in its bid to be the main driver for human development had many internal and external challenges. This includes the

  • late releasing of funds to schools (education department’s role)
  • inconsistency in meeting school development plans (MPs responsibility), and
  • lack of materials to meet students and teachers needs (private company role).

The three parties were internal participants and key stakeholders of the TFF policy. They depend on the government for funding. And, they were responsible to the people between 2012 and 2019. So, the government had the ultimate duty to make sure it:

  • commits to its policy,
  • releases money/allocated funds on time,
  • polices the implementation of its policy, and
  • makes decisions based on facts and figures

Subsidy a shared responsibility

So, what entails the new subsidy model? The country knows that there is going to be a funding cut. The government is paying 50% of school fees.

Early October 2020, the prime minister said

“We (his government) will detach technical schools and colleges (from the Education Ministry and attach them to higher education…’ The National 06/10/2019.

Earlier in August 2019, the prime minister hinted to the school fee structure of the new school subsidy model. The reasoning behind the policy was to relieve the parents who are paying high tuition fees at tertiary institutions.

The National newspaper reported that the parents were paying low school fees at elementary and primary schools. Whereas, the parents were paying about K10,000 to K15,000 for their children at high or tertiary institutions. The prime minister said

“Parents, if you have a child going through the tertiary institution, why don’t we relieve your higher education and you contribute partially at the lower level of education”. (The National, 08/2019)

The govt tuition fee subsidy (GTFS) model seems to be a realignment of the old TFF policy. The govt diverts the education funds for the low to medium education levels to higher education. And, introduces GTFS (for elementary-high schools) and HELP for the tertiary institution.

Govt to help with school tuition

Effectively, the Marape-Davis government is realigning the TFF model. And, re-distributing funds from the lower level, mid-level education to the higher education sector. The reasoning sounds feasible in principle.

Govt to help with school tuition 2020

But several points needed clarity (and those points are fundamental to the success of the new subsidy model 2020 at lower and middle levels of education). The government and the Education Ministry must give clear and concise answers from the start.

  • The parents know there are 3 parts to a student’s fees: cash, school supplies and infrastructure development. Which component is this 50% and how does it work?
  • Will parents pay the other 50% school fee, project fee, agency fee and other discretionary fees charged by the school?
  • Is there a Governance and Management Structure of the new school fee subsidy?
  • How can the education department facilitate transparency and accountability of school subsidy funds?
  • Who and which departments, organisations, companies and individuals will be central to the implementation of the 2020 new school fee subsidy model?

The first two questions were adequately addressed by the prime minister here, see this post. And also discussed above, the National Education Board (NEB) had set the 2020 school fee structure and project fee ceilings.

Unfortunately, the last three questions relating to governance and management of the 2020 GTFS is not spelt-out.

The missing link – governance and monitoring process

The education department is in a better position to support the government and roll out a feasible school fee model. It must use the experiences of the past to its advantage. Advise the government without fear or favour. Create a strong governance and monitoring framework. Close-off any proxy or middlemen dealings.

The adjustments to the new school fee policy need urgent consideration. The writer mentioned the importance of directly funding schools. in an earlier article. The new school subsidy model must ensure that money reaches the school in whole – not dribs and drabs.

This means that the National Govt, National Treasury and Education Department must create a solid governance framework to

  • directly channel money to schools,
  • monitor school spending,
  • ascertain development projects,
  • confirm materials and school supplies have reached schools,
  • report on fund management to government, and
  • review the process to improve it.

Where necessary hold to account anyone who abuses and misuses children’s school tuition money.

Reasoning – TFF and GTFS models

The article does not mean to discredit the TFF education policy model of free education. Nor is the writer wanting to cast doubt on the new school fee subsidy (GTFS) model.

The article presented in good faith. The writer hopes that the government gets the school fee policy right from the beginning.

The key message here is twofold:

  • directly fund schools
  • establish GTFS Governance, monitoring and policing framework

Monitor strictly the school development plans, operational plans and other strategic plans. The government must connect with principals, headteachers, deputies heads and SSM at school levels – direct.

Any PNG government cannot go wrong if it does the two process meticulously from the start.

Is School Subsidy Model (HELP) workable?

The answer is YES. The reasoning behind the policy to help with school tuition is convincing.

But, the government, the Education Ministry and Education Department have got to do it better!

In closure, this article is NOT a criticism of the TFF policy. It reflects on the TFF education policy so that the governance structures of the GTFS subsidy model are refined to create the right policy framework.


  • Directly fund the schools.
  • Establish School Tuition Fee Subsidy (2020 GTFS) governance and monitoring; reporting and policing framework.
  • Enhance the capacity at National Level to police the schools’ operational plans and school development plans
  • Review the school subsidy model annually to improve on its implementation
  • Clarify the school fee components covered by the 50% government funding; the project fee and other discretionary fees schools will charge; and the school fee ceilings for each schooling level. (THIS WAS DONE)
  • Establish a central (ONLINE) data-gathering and data-storing facility within the National Education Department (make sure the school data from then TFF monitoring team correlate to Measurement Services Division’s exam and certification data)

The writer has an interest in Education and Development in PNG – SDG4 Education.
His research work is based on Education and Development. In particular, the TFF policy from 2012 to 2019 and the purported subsidised education policy (GTFS 2020).

The writer had presented his research work in several education seminars such as UPNG/ANU annual conference and NDoE Education Seminar. Read about the writers work here (Education Policies & Discussions). Or visit his blog here,

The insights presented in this article is for information and educational purpose. The writer is available to give presentations and participate in workshop, discussions and conversations.

Contact: Twitter @PNG_Insight

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