Papua New Guinea’s Tuition Fee-Free policy: is it working?

In our previous blog post we looked at Papua New Guinea’s attempts to instigate fee-free education policies since independence. We suggested that the 2012 Tuition Fee-Free (TFF) policy – the fourth attempt to introduce ‘free education’ – has been more clearly communicated, better organised and funded, and has lasted longer than previous policies. In this post we draw on the findings of our recent research, to examine the TFF policy’s implementation and performance more closely.

How well is the TFF policy being implemented?

Our findings suggest that schools received most of their subsidy, and that this has helped to compensate schools for a loss of revenue over the decade. Between 2001 and 2012, national government subsidies increased from 48 to 249 kina per student, 21 kina short of the 270 kina per enrolled student that these schools are meant to get. (The shortfall is likely due to the fact that about 16 per cent of the schools we surveyed had not received their second payment, and about 10 per cent had not received a payment at all.) This increase more than made up for the loss of revenue from parents: support from parents dropped from 70 to 12 kina between 2001 and 2012. As a result, the total revenue per student was 336 kina per student in 2012, more than double the 2001 figure.

Revenues per student 2001 and 2012 in 2012 prices

Revenues per student 2001 and 2012 in 2012 pricesNotes: Standard errors in parenthesis.

This in itself is an achievement. A World Bank review of free education policies in Africa found that in some cases replacement revenues did not sufficiently make up for revenues lost. By and large this has not been the case in PNG.

Having said this, remote schools face excessive costs associated with accessing their subsidy. For the 216 primary level schools in our 2012 PEPE survey, on average it cost over 1,100 kina to access the subsidy, or about 4 per cent of the overall subsidy amount. In Gulf province, which is particularly remote, the reported average cost was 2,865 kina per school or 32 per cent of the average subsidy payment. Not only are travel and associated costs expensive, but there are substantial risks to transporting large sums of cash from banks to schools.

To work effectively the TFF policy requires oversight from both the government and the school community. The government funds Standards Officers and other district officers to monitor school expenditure – including subsidy payments – and school quality. The Department of Education’s TFF Policy Management Manual instructs Board of Management Chairs and Head Teachers to meet with district authorities twice a year to ensure they are using the TFF funding correctly. Results from the survey suggest that the department’s target is not close to being met. Only 29 per cent of schools said they received a visit to check the subsidy payment in 2011, and 33 per cent said they received a visit in 2012. In 2011 or 2012 only 39 per cent received a visit. This suggests that in both years inspections mostly occurred in the same schools.

As we outlined in our last post, there are signs that the community is playing an increased role in monitoring school subsidies. Still, this is not enough to make up for the infrequency of government monitoring. More needs to be done to ensure that education officials are actively monitoring subsidy payments; and at the very least, that they visit different schools every year, rather than the same schools as at present.

Is the TFF meeting its objectives?

The TFF has five key objectives: to improve access to schools (especially for girls); improve retention; improve the quality of education; strengthen education management; and improve equity to schooling across the country. Our findings give us insights into the policy’s impact on three of these objectives: access, quality of education and equity.

The TFF has led to an improvement in school enrolments. Between 2011 and 2012 enrolments increased by 17 per cent, the same percentage increase that our analysis suggests occurred in the 2002 attempt at introducing free education. There are two important conclusions to draw from the large changes over the two time periods. First, the magnitude of these increases in enrolments in a single year is large, given an average annual increase in the PNG population of around 3 per cent and an average annual increase in enrolments between 2002 and 2011 of 4.6 per cent. Second, the increase in enrolments in 2012 is particularly impressive since it is from a higher base.

These gains are, however, being undermined by reducing attendance levels. In 2002, 84 per cent of students were present on the day of the survey (based on Grade 5 students), this dropped to 71 in 2012. This is likely due to schools inflating enrolment figures, as well as enrolled students giving up on their education due to quality concerns (as we explore below). Still, overall more children are now attending school: in 2002, 62 per cent of parents said that most or all children in their community attended school, by 2012 that figure rose to 70 per cent.

It’s too early to assess the impact the TFF has had on girls’ enrolments. But the long term trend looks promising – only one third of the shared total enrolments in 2002 were girls, compared to 46 per cent in 2012.

In more good news, we find that the TFF has contributed to greater equity by substantially lowering the cost of education. Estimates of the total cost of schooling per student (including tuition fees, project fees and additional costs) reduced from 131 to 39 kina on average. These savings benefit the poor. According to the 2009-10 Household Income and Expenditure Survey, 33 per cent of parents said their children were not going to school because of fees, by far the most common reason. The figure was 35 per cent for parents who had girls and 50 per cent for those in the poorest wealth quintile of families.

These achievements are tempered by the impact that the TFF has had on the ability of schools to provide quality education. The TFF has certainly contributed to this overcrowding, which makes the Department of Education’s official goal to reduce classes with more than 45 students to zero by 2019 difficult.

The graph below shows that the share of classes with more than 45 students has increased in 2012 relative to 2011, and that growth has been particularly high in Grade 5, 7 and 8. In 2012, the level of crowding was, in both years, worse for lower primary grades.

Share of classes with more than 45 studentsShare of classes with more

Source: Based on survey with Head Teachers and, where there are missing values, statistics from the National Department of Education.

Some conclusions

While it is early days, the TFF policy shows a number of indicators of success. Schools are receiving subsidy payments, more students are accessing schools, and education costs have reduced. However, these initial achievements are threatened by poor monitoring, overcrowding, high costs for remote schools, and poor attendance. And the TFF on its own does not directly address other factors that contribute to poor educational outcomes, such as the quality and quantity of teachers.

We outline a number of recommendations for addressing these issues in Chapter 5 [PDF] of the report. In particular, we call for increasing teacher numbers to address overcrowding; better support for government officials and community representatives who can monitor the policy; and better targeting of the subsidy (which would mean increasing subsidies to remote schools, and reducing it for better off schools). Overall, the focus needs to shift from quantity (getting more students to enrol) to quality. Addressing these issues will go a long way towards improving the educational environment of schools across PNG.

The report ‘A lost decade? Service delivery and reforms in Papua New Guinea 2002-2012’ will be launched in Canberra at 12.30pm on Thursday 11 December at the ANU.  Speakers will include NRI Director Dr Thomas Webster. Register for the event here

Grant Walton and Anthony Swan are Research Fellows at the Development Policy Centre. Stephen Howes is Director of the Centre.

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Grant Walton

Grant Walton is an associate professor at the Development Policy Centre and the author of Anti-Corruption and its Discontents: Local, National and International Perspectives on Corruption in Papua New Guinea.

Anthony Swan

Anthony Swan is a Research Fellow at the Development Policy Centre and lecturer in the Master of International and Development Economics program. He managed the PEPE PNG project at the National Research Institute of PNG, and was also a lecturer at the University of Papua New Guinea. Now at the ANU, he continues his work at the PEPE project. He has a PhD in economics from the ANU and has a background in economic policy formulation and consulting.

Stephen Howes

Stephen Howes is Director of the Development Policy Centre and Professor of Economics at the Crawford School of Public Policy at The Australian National University.


  • The TFF is a very good educational development policy instrument to achieve universal education plus other associated objectives in PNG. However, the many undesirable issues associated with TFF point out the need to strengthen the accountability aspect of it. And Provincial Education Board (PEB) is already a key partner in the system, so its isolation is a bad precedent. Interestingly the already ever-know-it-all politicians are dipping their finger of greed into this policy. For instance, now that the 2017 National Election in around the corner, few shortsighted and selfish politicians are already awarding the TFF infrastructural components to their cronies objectively to steal through kickbacks.. How sad to have legislators (Law Makers) who are at the same time criminals? This is wisdom in limbo.

  • Tff policy was developed to achieve governments objective of universal education. However, the policy created other issues such as poor quality education, ineffective teacher deliver, misuse of funds, delay in delivery of funds, and it made the parents lazy. For these reasons other stake holders disagree with the policy. In order to balance the interest of the government’s objective and the stakeholders disagreement, the government should revisit the user pay policy which I believe is in the trash bin and improve it. The user pay policy will still achieve governments objective of universal education at the same time it will minimise the negative attitude from the teachers and parents.

    Thank you

  • While are a number of success indicators of the TFF policy as identified in the report, there are so many other problems also associated with the implementation of this policy. Some of them are discussed in the report and others include the following:
    • There wasn’t a review done on the Provincial Education Act (PEA) for each Province which encompasses among other principles the use of national and provincial grants to schools and how the TFF policy will be implemented. Previously, Provincial Education Board (PEB) determines much of the funding to schools in each Province depending on the needs on the ground, however, under the TFF policy, funding is provided directly to the schools bypassing PEB and PEA, so accountability which previously provided by PEB on school funding as per the PEA can no longer be in effect.
    • When there is no or limited accountability at the schools, the possibility of mismanagement of funds is very high. So far there have been reported cases of TFF funds being misused or thieved.
    • Under the TFF, funding is provided on the basis of enrollment list received by the National Education department, and not on the basis of needs and evidence about a particular school. The paradox is that, a school with big enrollment list does not imply that it requires huge funding to operate, or a school with small enrollment list has less problems and needs less funding. When you go down to the schools and see the situations there, it is totally different and much critical in the remote schools.
    • When the TFF policy was introduced, no detail preparation and induction provided to the schools on how to plan, manage, use and report on the funding. Teachers are trained to teach, not to be budget officers or accountants. School board of managements is a mere part time role played by local leaders with not so much aptitude on managing funds. Either a full time non-teaching staff is employed to do the book keeping and the procurement side of school needs or outsource such role which will involve a cost. Previously these roles were played by staff at the PEB office.
    • The TFF policy is interested in sending money directly to the schools, and not investing in upskilling the teachers at the schools to absorb the increase demand in the school as a result of the TFF policy. Teaches are stressed out with increase enrollment and demand for resources and teachers time, however, with better upskilling, teachers can meet the demand by delivering quality teachings.
    • Also as pointed out in the report, the needs in the schools and especially in the remote school, the cost of delivering a single improvement like a new classroom will cost more in the freight of building materials than the cost of the new classroom itself. That’s why PEB plays a key role in the management of TFF Policy.

    Thank you

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