The politics of undermining national fee-free education policy: Insights from Papua New Guinea

Grant W. Walton*, Husnia Hushang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Around the world, policymakers have found it difficult to sustain fee-free education policies. This article shows how politicians can significantly undermine national fee-free education policies by redirecting resources to subnational administrations, where funds can be used to shore up political support. To do so it examines changes to political support towards Papua New Guinea’s longest running fee-free education policy. The Tuition Fee Free (TFF) policy was introduced in 2012 under the government of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill before the policy was abolished, and the subsidy supporting it reduced, in 2019 by a new government led by Prime Minister James Marape. Following the introduction of the TFF policy in 2012, national politicians empowered subnational governments to control TFF subsidies, while education and other funding had started to flow to newly created district administrations. This paved the way for politicians to maintain fee-free education policy in some subnational administrations when the Marape government cut the TFF subsidy. This article suggests that in Papua New Guinea, as in some other developing countries, politicians are incentivised to administer fee-free education policies at subnational rather than national administrative scales. Sustaining universal fee-free education policies will require changing these incentives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)401-419
Number of pages19
JournalAsia and the Pacific Policy Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


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