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Students To Challenge Tuition Fees In Court

A group of students from Auckland University are lodging a claim in the High Court within the next several weeks to seek judicial review of the process by which the University sets its fees.

“As fees keep increasing year by year and the level of debt spirals out of control, students are becoming desperate. It is time the government, and by extension the University, be made to take into account its’ obligations under International Covenants when setting funding and fee levels,” said Eva Neitzert, Education Vice President at the Auckland University Students’ Association (AUSA).

In 1968, New Zealand signed the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights. The Covenant came into force in New Zealand ten years later. Article 13 of the Covenant provides that
… Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education. [emphasis added]

In 1992, the National Government sought to comply with the Covenant by removing the standard full-time tertiary tuition fee. The government gave each university the power to set its own fees, but it began a substantial reduction in per-student funding, so that effectively university's were forced to make up the difference from students.

Public universities are part of the government. The law increasingly holds the government to its international obligations. A group of Auckland students are challenging whether, under the existing law, the government and the universities it owns can increasingly make higher education more expensive to students.

"The university is caught in the middle of a funding war," continued Ms Neitzert. "The government pays less and less per student and students have to pay the short fall. AUSA realises the university is beginning to show signs of poor quality as it cuts staff and resources, but someone has to challenge the government on policies that make the youngest adults bear costs that gives them huge debts before they even finish their education."

“We are disappointed that our attempts to alert the government to the crisis in the tertiary sector have been ignored. We now feel that we have no other option but to turn to the courts if we wish to stop this catastrophe in the making,” concluded Ms Neitzert.

Eva Neitzert 309 0789 x 204 or 021 665 139
Education Vice President (AUSA)

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