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NZUSA Open Letter To Helen Clark

AN OPEN LETTER TO HELEN CLARK

6 December 1999

The Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister-elect
Parliament Buildings
WELLINGTON

Dear Ms Clark,

On behalf of the New Zealand University Students' Association, please accept our congratulations on your election victory. We look forward to an education-friendly Government, and to working with you and your Ministers.

As you are no doubt aware, tertiary education has become a necessity of modern life. As Lord Dearing noted, "to maintain a cohesive and a rich culture, we must invest in education, to develop our greatest resource, our people." Yet over the past nine years, we have seen both per-student funding and student living support cut to the bone. It now costs over $14,000 a year to be a student. These costs keep rising, but the ability of students to keep pace with them hasn't. According to our Income and Expenditure Survey, average student incomes have dropped over the past two years. The results are very grim; student debt is growing beyond control, and is unlikely to stop growing within the next thirty years, unless something is done urgently.

We therefore ask that you and your Ministers give urgent consideration to the following initiatives:

 Urgently lift the restrictions on students receiving the unemployment benefit (now known as the Community Wage - Student) this summer. The decision to deny the Community Wage to those students who didn't receive a Student Allowance defied reason and humanity, and causes intense hardship for students over the summer break.

 Remove interest on Student Loans. It can take many borrowers years of repayment before they actually begin to reduce the size of their Loan. The interest rates serve only to demoralise students and extend repayment times.

 Increase public funding for tertiary education, and reduce fees. This year saw some of the most horrendous fee increases in the history of tertiary education. Some Canterbury University students are facing fees 33% higher than in 1999. It is absolutely imperative that action is taken to reduce these costs, and to make education accessible to all.

 Move quickly towards universal living allowances, and restore the Training Incentive Allowance for beneficiaries. Only better living support policies can stop the growth of Student Loan debt, and ensure equal access to tertiary education.

 Get tough on poor quality providers. Only quality education is worth public investment. Yet the previous Government opened the funding doors to a wide range of tertiary providers and courses, without checking whether what they were any good. Neither students nor the country can afford the sort of legal battles over quality we have seen over the past three years.

Above all, please ensure that WINZ has the capacity and systems in place to run Student Loans and Allowances properly next year. While WINZ has apologised for the Student Allowance debacles this year, we can not afford to see this situation repeated. You can't pay for food and rent with an apology.

When the public of New Zealand voted for a change of Government, they voted for a fresh approach to politics and policies. We hope that you will take up the challenge the voters have delivered, and restore a quality, accessible education system.

Yours sincerely,


Tanja Schutz
Sam Huggard
NZUSA Co-Presidents 2000

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