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In many western countries, governments have made increasing participation rates and widening access for socially-excluded groups a policy priority for higher education. At the same time, higher education has historically been seen as a ‘public good’, with tuition costs offset by subsidies either directly to the universities or to students in the form of grants or low-interest loans. In many Asian countries, where families are accustomed to sending their children overseas or to expensive private universities at home, the fact that many western students have easy access to local universities where they pay partial or no tuition fees seems alien. The growing costs of massification, coupled with the current fiscal stress suffered by many governments after the financial crisis, means that this liberal western model is beginning to unravel. This presentation examines the case of New Zealand, where higher education policy is struggling to adjust to the new financial realities.