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New Zealand has a long tradition of accessible, affordable public higher education. The 1989 Education Act entitles students to enrol at university by right of prior educational achievement at high school or age. Combined with generous financial aid, this “open entry” has contributed to New Zealand having one of the highest participation rates in the developed world. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis and a change of government to a National-led coalition, the fiscal cost of open entry has come under the spotlight. In a series of policy changes, the government has moved to cap overall enrolments, limit students’ access to financial aid and encourage universities to exclude failing students by introducing financial penalties for low course and qualification pass rates. In principle, these changes could reduce the overall number of students at university without eroding the principle of open entry. Instead, most New Zealand universities have introduced selective admissions policies, ending the era of open entry. This paper explores the arguments for and against open entry, reviews the history of open entry in New Zealand and discusses the likely impact of recent policy developments on the higher education landscape.