Sustaining Tuition Fee Free Education Policy in PNG

The paper discusses the long term and short term plans of the National Department of Education (NDoE) and gives insights to the importance of sustainability of the Tuition Fee Free Education (TFFE) policy in Papua New Guinea. It further asks is a national review of the policy a better way to strengthen the implementation of the tuition fee-free education policy in PNG? 
UPDATED 04 December 2018

key point on Tuition Fee Free Education Policy
Tuition Fee Free Education Policy in PNG (PDF download)
1.1. Background

In 1981 the Chan government first introduced a free education policy. It was then reintroduced in 1993 by Wingti government and later in 2002 by the Morauta government. Each government saw this policy as an important driver for economic change and for achieving universal basic education in PNG.  

All three governments had three issues in common; the policy was short-lived, confusion emerged about ‘free’ and ‘subsidised’ education and each time the policy was introduced before national general elections. 

In 2012, the O’Neill government reintroduced a free education policy. The issue of longevity faced by the previous governments was effectively addressed by the O’Neill government.

The second issue was not addressed; there is still confusion among parents, schools and the National Department of Education regarding how the policy is practised. The third issue regarding implementation just before the national election is true, but there needs to be a careful analysis to confirm why.

1.2. Explanation of Tuition Fee-Free Education Policy

Free education policy is the government’s policy on subsidised tuition fees and this policy is known as the Tuition Fee-Free Education (TFFE) policy. The policy does not cover the project fee, agency fee or other discretionary fees each school may set and pass on for parents to pay. 

In fact, free education is not ‘free’ in its entirety. It is technically reasonable to refer to the policy as ‘subsidised’ education policy. This paper uses TFFE with an emphasis on ‘Free’. Furthermore, a student is the key stakeholder of TFFE policy. Though the national government is the main benefactor (sponsor) and students remain the main beneficiaries (recipients), students’ interest must be the top priority for every government.


It is important to note that compulsory and affordable education is a cornerstone of the department’s directional statements. For example, the Vision 2050 aims for free education and schooling for all is indicated in the following words: ‘Free and Universal Basic Education for all school-age children from Elementary 1 to Grade 12 PNG Vision 2050, p. 5) and embedded in the department’s vision, mission, objectives and goals. 

2.1. Vision and Mission

The education department vision states: 

Our vision is integral human development achieved through an affordable education system that appreciates Christian and traditional values and prepares literate, skilled and healthy citizens by concentrating on the growth and development of each individual’s personal viability and formation while ensuring all can contribute to the peace and prosperity of the nation.

The mission statements for the education department are to; 

  • facilitate and promote the integral development of every individual,
  • develop and encourage an education system which satisfies the requirements of PNG and its people,
  • establish, preserve and improve standards of education throughout PNG, 
  • make the benefits of such education available as widely as possible to all the people, and
  • make education accessible to the poor and physically, mentally and socially handicapped as well as to those who are educationally disadvantaged (Sinebare, 2014).

2.2. Objectives and Goals

The education department three objectives are:
  • To develop an education system to meet the needs of Papua New Guinea and its people, which will provide appropriately for the return of children to the village community, for formal employment, or for continuation to further education and training,
  • To provide basic schooling for all children as this becomes feasible, and
  • To help people understand the changes that are occurring in contemporary society through the provision of non-formal education and literacy programs.

According to the Tuition Fee-Free Policy Management Manual, the TFFE policy aims to support compulsory and affordable education by achieving five key goals:

  • Access is improved for all children, especially girls;
  • Retention is enhanced where more children complete 9 years of primary education; 
  • Quality of education is improved for all grade of elementary to primary levels;
  • Education management is strengthened across all administrative levels;
  • Equity is enhanced to ensure quality education is available for all children in all communities across the country.

2.3. TFFE Policy Governance and Management Structure

The ability of governments to maintain investment in education is important to achieving universal education. Citing a UN report on political commitment, Walton (2016) in his article ‘The importance of national and local politics for improving educational quality’  stated that ‘political will’ is key to achieving education goals (para 1). 

It is reassuring to know that TFFE funding was consistent during the O’Neill government (Figure 4 and Figure 5). But, instances of fund mismanagement (EMTV, 2015) and manipulation of project fees by schools (Robinson, 2014) are relevant issues which needed addressing at both the department and district levels. 

tff policy management flow
Policy Governance and Management Structure
One way to address policy issues is to create strong governance, management structure and reporting system. The diagram shows the governance structure of TFFE funds, with the arrows indicating the flow of data and school management reports. TFF Policy Management Manual (2014), and ministerial and successive department secretaries’ statements (Kuman, 2014; Kuman & Kombra, 2016), describe the structure and reporting channels in principle. 

However, no attempt was made to clearly define a structural framework like the one shown in Figure 2. The figure is an attempt to give a clear picture of the systems and processes concerned with the implementation of the TFFE policy.

Kuman and Kombra (2016) described the different stages of monitoring and reporting. Both education leaders further outlined stakeholders’ participation as the key. These are indicated below.
  • District Administration: Local communities, school headteachers and boards submit data collected through every School Census and School Learning Improvement Plans (SLIP) and other development plans to DEIC.
  • Provincial Education Division: DEIC in each district approves SLIP, ensures proper use of TFF funds and verifies school and enrolment data. The membership consists of a church representative, CEO of District Development Authority, community representatives and the District Education Administrator and District Standard Officers/Inspectors.
  • NDoE: Establishment of TFF Secretariat within the DoE adds capacity. It provides administrative support to the Secretary for Education and assists the work of the Inter Departmental TFF Steering Committee. Provincial Coordinators are appointed to assist the Secretariat to implement the policy. 
  • Ministerial-level: The Inter-Departmental TFF Steering Committee (IDSC) will report to the Minister for Education, who reports to NEC and parliament. All other stakeholders’ responsibilities are covered in this TFF Implementation Guide.

stakeholders report on TFF
Mandatory Reports - Honest Participation from Provincial and National Levels


The literature review attempts to discuss the introduction of the TFFE policy in 1981, 1993, 2002 and 2012 (including 2017) by the People’s Progress Party (PPP), People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) party and People’s National Congress (PNC) party, respectively. 

One way to understand the implications of the free education policy implemented by both the past and present governments is to analyse the time when the free education policy was announced; the duration of the policy; and the overall planning (or lack of it) at the time of and following the announcement.

A research paper, based on a survey by the Australian National University (ANU), titled Financing and the Tuition Fee-Free Policy (ANU, 2012), described the impacts of TFFE policy on the education system. 

The research paper used the term ‘big bang’ to describe the huge increase in TFFE funding. For example, the research stated that ‘a big bang approach can cause “access shock”, whereby a sudden rise in student numbers puts pressure on educational quality (p. 5). The research revealed that there was strong growth in enrollment at an average of 15 per cent in the first year, 2012. It concluded that 
‘the increase in enrolments between 2011 and 2012 is a clear indication that the policy has substantially increased access to schooling for children across the country’ (p.14)
However, the survey by ANU researchers was done in select provinces and concentrated on the cost of education per child. Furthermore, though the research discussed the political history of TFFE policy, it focused on the impacts of the policy rather than the ‘political will’, which was lacking in the past. Therefore, the literature review in this paper adds to the two issues discussed in brief by the ANU researchers: the overall spending on TFFE and the political changes.

3.1. Short-Lived Free Education Attempts 1981, 1993 and 2002

In 1981, free education was received with mixed feelings in many provinces. Bray (2002) mentioned three reasons many provinces were sceptical about the policy (Walton & Swan, 2014). Walton and Swan argued that provincial governments feared the national government was aiming to take control of their financial and functional powers. 

As a result, five provinces did not implement the policy. Others raised concerns that the policy was unplanned and that it was unsustainable. But, fifteen other provinces implemented the free education policy.  When Sir Julius Chan PPP led government was ousted in late July 1982, its free education policy was scrapped. The policy lasted less than 12 months.

In 1993, Paias Wingti PDM party-led government reintroduced the free education policy after a successful election in July 1992. Confusion arose among parents and schools. Many thought ‘free’ education was free in its entirety according to Walton and Swan (2014). 

The discussion arose when the project fee was passed on to parents to pay. The Wingti government’s attempt to introduce free education lasted 18 months, from January 1993 to August 1994.

In 2002, PDM party under Morauta made a significant commitment to subsidise school fees. The budgetary allocation of K150 million was, then, the biggest to implement this policy. Again confusion emerged over the difference between free and subsidised education. 

The Morauta government thought the free education policy was an important driver for development. But, some people saw the timing as an attempt to skew parents’ opinion at the polls. For example, Marshall (2002) reported that 

‘In a blatant pitch for votes in the approaching June [2002] election, Papua New Guinea (PNG) Prime Minister Mekere Morauta claimed late last year that his government would grant free education for primary and secondary school children if it gained another term’ (para. 1)

In terms of time, Morauta became prime minister in July 1999 and made this significant commitment to free education late in 2001 only seven months before 2002 general elections. Given the unpreparedness and lack of proper coordination, as well as the complexity of the issue, the policy proved unpopular during the national election. 

The Somare National Alliance (NA) party went to elections on anti-free education policy (Nalu, 2010) and successfully formed a new government in August 2002. The new government reduced 2002 tuition fee budgetary allocation from K150 to K60 million and reintroduced school fees.

3.2. Tuition Fee-Free Education Policy 2012 to 2016

The O’Neill government TFFE policy achieved better results than previous attempts. Initiated in 2011, it was fully implemented in 2012, seven months before national elections and gained popularity. The government allocated K602 million (Walton & Swan, 2014). 

Four times more than the Morauta government in 2002 and six times more than the Somare government in 2007. The Education funding averaged K474.4 million per year for the years 2002, 2007 and 2012 to 2016. The average shows that funding allocations in the last five years were, in fact, better than the earlier allocations. 

Comparision tff funds 2002-2012
Funds Committed to TFF Policy 2002 - 2016 
It is important to know that sustaining the policy for more than five years was the most important achievement for the O’Neill government. However, there is a gradual downward trend in fund allocation between 2012 and 2016, from a high of K657 million (2013) to K602 million (2016) and this has led to implementation problems. 

An ANU survey report on Education Financing and the Tuition Fee-Free Policy (ANU, 2012) in the country also indicated that government allocation ‘is expected to increase at around 3.5 per cent per annum to 782 million [K]ina in 2017 ( p.1 para. 1).  Furthermore, at the rate of 3.5 per cent, 2016 funding would be K755 million but instead, the funding was K602 million. The year-on-year 3.5 per cent increment had not been realised. 

The literature review highlights the fact various governments have seen ‘education for all’ as the main driver for free education policy (Walton, 2016). The policy resulted in a surge in a number of students going to school mentioned by Walton and Swan (2014). This review also shows that funding from the O’Neill government was better compared to past governments. However, the introduction of free education by governments just before national elections raises a question about the sustainability of the policy. Even with the O’Neill government’s relatively strong financial commitment to implementing the TFFE policy, questions have been asked about the timing of the implementation. 

3.3. Method of Research

This research uses a diverse range of online articles and published documents to investigate and discuss the issue of sustainability of TFFE policy. The paper’s main sources are the Development Policy Centre, National Research Institute, Institute of National Affairs, Treasury Department website, NDoE website and ministerial statements on TFF policy. The paper uses raw data from budget documents in discussions relating to TFFE funding. 


4.1. Project Fee Confusion 

Many schools, fearing financial difficulty before the start of 2016 school year, decided to impose project fee on parents and sponsors. For example, Robinson (2016) stated that schools in the Eastern Highlands Province had not heeded the education secretary’s circular on project fee abolishment. For clarity, the article was based on the secretary’s first directive on project fee abolishment. 

Kukari (2015) also mentioned the abolishment of the project fee in 2015, stating that the education secretary’s directive addressed the department’s goal of ‘free and universal’ education (p. 2). The secretary rescinded his directive.  A joint statement released by the minister and secretary (Kuman & Kombra, 2016) clarified that project fee had not been abolished. Both men iterated that the department set a maximum fee limit for all elementary to secondary schools to follow. The announcement effectively clarified the misunderstandings. 

4.2. Effects of Changing Education Secretaries

Dr Sinebare (the secretary between November 2011 and September 2012) and his team responded quickly to the O’Neill government TFFE policy announcement in 2011 and formulated a policy document called Tuition Fee-Free Policy Management Manual. 

The document, widely circulated for implementation in 2012, emphasised that free education was the cornerstone for achieving Universal Basic Education (UBE) Plan 2010 – 2019. The message to stakeholders was that free education was, in fact, free in its entirety. 

School heads, parents and communities had to take ownership of the policy and ensured its success (Sinebare, 2012). Dr Sinebare served for only ten months in his position. Dr Tapo (September 2012 – May 2014) who took over from Dr Sinebare had served for twenty months as the education secretary. He was sacked due to the department’s failure to distribute TFFE fund to schools on time, and replaced by Dr Kombra (May 2014 – present). All the while, there seems to be little effect in understanding the implementation of the policy.

4.3. Missing TFF Funds and Lack of Monitoring and Reporting 

In 2015, eight per cent (K50 million) of TFFE funds disappeared without a trace. Identifying the reason for this missing money is important so strategies can be implemented so this does not reoccur. 

The PNG Teachers Association (PNGTA) and the leader of PNG’s Opposition raised concerns about the missing money (EMTV, 2015) and this received no result. Stipulated in the TFF Policy Management Manual, and recently in ministerial statements, are details of processes for releasing TFFE fund to schools. For example, in order for the fund to be released directly into schools’ bank accounts, the schools must produce students’ data and acquittals of expenditures. 

The disappearance of the money placed doubt on the department’s capacity to handle TFFE funds. In January 2016, the department intended to create additional capacity (TFFS and DEIC) and TFFE fund management system; and establish monitoring and reporting structures (highlighted in Figure 2 and Figure 3). From the education department’s standpoint, the extra capacity through the establishment of TFFS will ‘provide administrative support to the Secretary for Education and will assist the work of the Inter-Departmental TFF Steering Committee’ (NDoE, 2016).
Given these sectorial challenges, there have been positive strides in the last five years to address free and universal education goals. More importantly, the government’s commitment to fund the TFFE policy was above average as compared to past governments’ attempts. Given these points, the main challenge is to ensure effective operations of the new Governance and Management Structure, and Reporting channels.


Previous sections discussed the history and challenges of the TFFE policy. This section attempts to put into perspective the long term and short term plans relating to the education sector. Perhaps, this is an important part of the paper because it provides answers to the question at hand: Strategic Planning of Your Organisation as it Aligns With Your Country Vision’.

5.1. Vision 2050 - Subsidised or Free Education 

The Vision 2050 was a 40-year strategic plan established in 2010 by the Somare movement. Of the five National Goals enshrined in the Constitution and Seven Pillars of Vision 2050, education is number one. Documented in Vision 2050 is the emphasis on free education and UBE: ‘Free and Universal Basic Education for all school-age children from Elementary 1 to Grade 12’ (Vision 2050, p.20) 

Somare’s government subsidy ranged between 100 million and 147 million Kina (Figure 5) – also a major contribution to education since Independence. However, his government saw education as a partnership venture between sponsors (parents) and the government and not entirely free across all levels of education. Conversely, the O’Neill government’s first commitment to education was free education from elementary 1 to grade 10. 

However, this changed in 2013 when grades 11 and 12 tuitions were covered under the TFFE policy (ANU, 2012). As previously discussed, confusions emerged regarding payment of tuition fees and whether the education was either free or subsidised. In fact, between 2012 and 2014 parents had paid project fee and agency fee under the TFFE policy. This changed in 2015 when the project fee was abolished (Robinson, 2015; Kukari 2015). Education was free. Parents and sponsors paid nothing. In 2016, the project fee was reintroduced to schools (Kuman & Kombra, 2016). 

Among confusions, the department set project fee limit for schools to follow and passed onto parent to pay. The debate on whether education is free or subsidised is, possibly, inconclusive. But, it is important to know that the government funding commitment to UBE for all boys and girls increased sharply since 2007 – significant investments in education.

5.2. Sectorial Plans – Short Term and Long Term Education Plans 

Several long term and short term plans (Secretary, 2010; TISER, 2013; NDoE 2015) have been put in place to achieve the education department vision and mission. Though this paper does not intend to address each plan in detail, it briefly explains their intentions. In brief, the five directional plans include:

Education Sector Strategic Plan (ESSP) 2010-2030 – A long term plan for the education department. It identifies the strategies needed addressing in order to align NDoE vision and mission, and objectives and goals with the Vision 2050. It also provides a guide for the department in a 20 year period, ending 2030;

Universal Basic Education (UBE) Plan 2010-2019 - A 20-year plan covering both the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2000 – 2015, especially MDG  2 which relates to education for all. The plan contains a situation analysis of national targets (indicators) such as students’ access and enrolment, teacher-student ratio, infrastructure development, management and capacity development and other educational issues concerned with achieving compulsory, free and quality education for both boys and girls of primary school-aged children;

National Education Plan (NEP) 2005-2014 - This plan served as a roadmap for a 10 year period. Its objective was to achieve ‘basic education for all’ and provided further opportunity for students dropping out in the first 9 years of education (Prep to Grade 8). The department launched a 5-year medium-term development plan, NEP 2015 – 2019, to ensure that its review coincided with PNG Vision review 2050 in 2020;

Provincial Education Plans (PEP) 2007-2016 – A 10-year mandatory plan specific to each province. The aim of the plan is the address each province’s educational needs whilst taking into consideration NDoE vision and mission and education targets contained in the national plans. PEP also stipulated provincial administration structure and roles of stakeholders at provincial and district levels; and

School Learning Improvement Plan (SLIP) – This plan was school based and mandatory. It provided a basis for improving learning outcomes and management of funds and resource allocation in schools. SLIP provides an overview of money spent on school administration, teaching and learning resources, and infrastructural development. This important plan is reviewed both internally (by school head, boards, parents representatives and communities) and externally (by standard officers). 

The five documents were evidence of strategy planning and operational planning within the education system. The national plans must be translated into provincial and school plans and also effectively implemented at each level. 

Even more, these plans together with the Management and Governance Structure (Figure 2) and Reporting system (Figure 3) have the potential to achieve the objectives and goals of the department.


This section aims to respond to the need to develop a strategic plan to incorporate the issues relating to the sustainability of TFFE policy. Using SWOT analysis, the section identifies some strengths and weaknesses (internal factors) and opportunities and threats (external factors) of TFFE policy in the last five years, 2012 to 2016. 

Furthermore, the section uses the factors to set priorities and ensure that all stakeholders work toward not only sustaining TFFE policy but also improve on the failures in the past.

SWOT analysis TFF
Advantages and disadvantages of TFF Policy in PNG

The literature review (sections 3 and 5) and the data analysis (figures 4 and 5) show that the government commitment to TFFE policy is better than other governments in the past. The five weaknesses are all capacity/system issues within the NDoE. In fact, the establishment of TFFS – a new branch within NDoE to assist the secretary on TFFE policy matters (Figure 2) - is an example of building capacity. However, this may be too late. 

The policy is in its fifth year of implementation, the national general election is in July 2016 and uncertainty abounds. Nevertheless, it is vital that a strong process for monitoring, recording and reporting dispersal of education funds is established and implemented with immediate effect.

The four threats are political, economic and technological in nature. The O’Neill government has made an outstanding commitment to the free education policy. For example, in five years the government allocated over 3 billion Kina in TFFE funding, an average of 614.2 million Kina per year. The Somare government (2007 – 2011) total school fee subsidy in five years was 634.3 million Kina, averaging 126.86 million Kina per year. 

Literally, the O’Neill government average funding in one year was almost equal to what the Somare government spent on education in five years (Figure 6). Having said that, the unpredictability of PNG elections is not good for the policy’s stability. Another threat is the lack of inter-department data storage and retrieval mechanism. 

Currently, national government departments have standalone websites that are not linked together. This makes producing reports difficult. For example, data from several departments will have to be manually entered or searched and collated to track progress and provide reports. A realistic solution to this problem is having one website connecting all the government departments and offices. 


In conclusion, the PNG government's free education policy was an attempt to achieve integral human development stipulated in the vision and mission of the education department. The attempts to implement the free education policy in 1981, 1993 and 2002 were short-lived. 

The attempt in 2012 by the O’Neill government lasted two parliamentary terms and its funding was consistent. Capacity to manage the TFFE funds and report on it was lacking in the department of education. The establishment of the TFF Secretariat, the Governance and Management Structure and the Reporting System to monitor the use of TFFE funds needed implementing urgently. It is important that all the stakeholders of the TFFE policy must ensure that the interest of the key stakeholders – the students – is paramount now and in the future. 


At this juncture, the paper recommends the following actions to be taken at the national level.

  • A complete review of the TFF policy is carried out immediately by a committee - a team similar to the 2015 National Examination Review Committee - to strengthen the policy and further guide its implementation.
  • The national government creates a centralised website and makes it mandatory for NDoE to collect updated school data in real-time.
  • The education department strengthens the Governance and Management Structure and carefully and thoroughly monitors school census and data supplied by schools heads; and
  • The education department creates additional capacity to work with school inspectors and district administrators to monitor the School Learning and Implementation Plan (SLIP) relating to the spending of TFF funds.

You can download the Tuition Fee Free Education Policy in PNG PDF here (⇒ PDF download)

Declaimer: All attempts have been made to ascertain the factuality of information presented in this academic paper. Please, let the writer know if there is anything you wish to point out in the comment section. You can use the Contact Form or Twitter ().



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