Student debt is more than $16 billion in New Zealand. But 30 years ago, university was free. 

So how did we get here?

In 1871, a medical degree at New Zealand’s first university would cost around 177 pounds, which is about $3400 a year in today's money. 

But in 1962, a generous grant was introduced which covered the tuition fees and living costs of all students - and most could actually survive on this grant alone. 

But this came to an end in 1989 when the fourth Labour government introduced the first flat rate tertiary fee. 

Students weren’t happy and thousands protested. But the scheme went ahead and annual tuition fees quadrupled from $288 a year to $1,250 overnight.

From there things only got worse. 

In 1991, the National government abolished the flat rate fee, and let universities set their own fee. They also scrapped universal student allowances and introduced means testing. This meant support was only available for students whose parents earnt below a certain income.

In order to pay for quickly growing university fees, student loans were introduced in 1992 - and back then loans racked up interest straight away. 

Aside from removing interest on student loans for those that stayed in the country and establishing automatic loan repayments from wages - nothing was done to stop fees rising.

By 2016, the average fee for university was $6,938 - which was seen as a huge barrier for people deciding to study.

That’s why in the 2017 general election, Labour came up with the fees free. 

The policy meant every student who enrolled in university from 2018, would get the first year free. And by 2024, it would be three years for free. 

But instead of this encouraging more students to study, in 2018 2400 less students enrolled in tertiary education. 

Since then Labour has backtracked on its plans to extend free fees beyond the first year.

The reality is studying is unaffordable.

In 2017, one in six students at Unitec in Auckland were going hungry just so they could get higher education. 

So what do you think, is it time we fix this?