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Greens Throw Down Gauntlet With Tertiary Policy

5th July 2002

Green MP Nandor Tanczos today released the party's Tertiary Education policy, saying that a universal student allowance and capped fees were needed to roll back the user pays model in education.

Speaking at Lincoln University today Nandor said that tertiary education was a big election issue in 1999, and the Labour/Alliance Government had been a real disappointment on the issue.

The key points of the Green policy are:

* the introduction of a universal student allowance set at the same level as the unemployment benefit;
* capping of student fees at $1500 followed by a progressive phasing out of fees;
* a debt write off scheme for graduates that stay and work in New Zealand;
* reintroduction of the emergency unemployment benefit for students who cannot find summer work.

"During the late 1980's and through the 1990's the tertiary sector was turned on its head. The student loans scheme was introduced, funding for universities and polytechs was cut year after year and tuition fees went through the roof," said Nandor.

"It was a right wing agenda of user pays that got the student loan scheme introduced, but despite the change of Government, the student loan scheme and high fees are still in place.

"If we are serious about tertiary education, we better get real. What we have seen from this Government is nowhere near enough. We must get rid of the student loan scheme before the $5 billion debt gets even more out of control and we must stop penalising people for wanting an education."

Nandor said it was dumb that if a beneficiary wants to get a tertiary education, their financial support is removed and they are forced to take a loan at commercial rates to pay rent and eat.

"Currently half of all student debt is for living costs. Introducing allowances and cutting fees would make the student loan scheme redundant at the same time as encouraging people into tertiary education.

"Our debt write-off scheme whereby a year's worth of student debt is wiped every year a graduate works in New Zealand would help retain our bright graduates instead of chasing them off shore," he said.

"These changes will cost but we simply must start to redress the damage that has been done. It is vital that the Greens get the numbers at the next election to be able to negotiate a better deal for students."

------------------------------

5 July 2002

Launch of Green Party Tertiary Education Policy Speech to students, Lincoln University, Sunken Lawn

Livication...

Many students supported Labour at the last election. They were sold on the promise that Labour would do something to address the shambles created by the imposition of a user-pays philosophy, voluntary student unionism and the competitive model of education.

So in the lead up to the election we saw student activists going off in a way we hadn't seen for a while.

Students were marching, demonstrating and occupying registries. All aimed at seeing National dumped and a left-wing government elected. Because it was the National Government that had ruthlessly cut funding for tertiary education, introduced the student loans scheme and watched fees rise from just a few hundred dollars per year to over $4000.

Students were campaigning to change not only the Government but the whole approach towards tertiary education.

Hopes were high that the new Labour - Alliance Government would immediately start to redress the structural damage that had been done to the tertiary sector. Hopes were high that a universal student allowance would be introduced, the loan scheme scrapped and fees cut substantially.

But students have been sadly disappointed.

Despite all of the reports and recommendations, there has been no real re-examination of the student loans scheme. Despite the lip service paid to the need to develop a 'knowledge economy' average fees for a full time student sit at $4500 and the total student debt is $5 billion and predicted to hit $20 billion by 2020.

I am here today to outline the key points of the Green approach to tertiary education and to release the policy that we will be campaigning on during this election.

We recognise that the structures and systems that were introduced during the late 1980's and 1990's are incompatible with an accessible, education-driven tertiary sector.

Despite nearly three years of a Labour - Alliance Government, these systems and structures are as firmly in place as ever.

The current system is grossly unfair. In what other area of life do we assume that people are financially dependent on their parents until the age of 25? The current parental income threshold for the student allowance has not been adjusted since the scheme was introduced a decade ago. And we have a system where a beneficiary who wished to enter tertiary education is cut off from financial support and forced to take out a loan just to cover rent and food.

In fact over half of the $5 billion of student debt was borrowed just to cover living costs.

The Greens believe if we are serious about encouraging people into education and removing the current barriers we should support students with a universal student allowance set at the same level of the unemployment benefit.

A universal student allowance would remove the need for students to borrow to eat and pay the rent.

The Greens do not believe there is any place for the student loans scheme in a country committed to higher learning and it is Green policy to phase the scheme out. The introduction of universal allowances would be a much-needed and achievable first step towards that.

The other major barrier to tertiary education is student fees. The Labour - Alliance Government has held fees static at the levels they were under National. That is good, but it is not good enough. The Green policy is to immediately cap student fees at $1500 and to progressively phase them out from there.

The absence of allowances and the introduction of fees are the main drivers behind the student loan scheme. Bringing back allowances and cutting fees would make the loan scheme redundant, and about time.

The Greens are the only political party likely to be in the next parliament that support these policies.

In Britian, Tony Blair's Labour Government has announced a fundamental rethink of the UK student loans scheme. The Greens urge Helen Clark to do the same here.

There is no clearer demonstration of the difference between the rhetoric of the last election campaign and what has been delivered than the Emergency Unemployment Benefit for students who cannot find work over summer.

When National cut this benefit Steve Maharey called it a 'mean spirited attack on students'. The Alliance ran a postcard campaign promising to restore it. Yet when Green MP Sue Bradford introduced a private members bill last year seeking to restore the EUB, both Labour and the Alliance voted it down in parliament.

As a result students who cannot find work over the summer continue to depend on foodbanks and further loans from family and friends.

The Greens will continue to advocate for this benefit to be reintroduced and we hope that those who have promised to do the same will finally match their words with action.

The rapidly increasing student debt is already having a negative economic impact on ex-students and our economy. I do not think that the people who introduced the scheme gave any real thought to the long term implications.

Recent comments by Lockwood Smith that he never envisaged that all students would pay off their loans, and that he thought that students who could not would die in debt are an insult to those students and graduates struggling under the burden of student debt.

Banks are declining loans and mortgages, families and businesses are being delayed, and all over the country rural communities cannot attract qualified people to practice in their area because they cannot pay enough for graduates to cover their student loan repayments.

The Greens are advocating a debt write-off scheme whereby for every year a graduate stays and works in New Zealand - in either paid or voluntary work - a year's worth of student debt is wiped. This policy would encourage our talented graduates to stay and work in Aotearoa and contribute to our economy.

Without a huge debt hanging around their necks they are also more likely to stay. If we are committed to building an econation, this must be our goal. The current system discourages people from entering tertiary education and then practically pushes them out the door.

The Green policy wants to turn that around.

We acknowledge that the policy I have just described will cost a lot of money but we believe that it is money that simply must be spent.

While the Government plans to invest billions of dollars in offshore businesses through the superannuation investment scheme we are continuing to penalise our young people and dumb down our future.

We cannot hope to provide for our older people in the future if we do not have talented, well-educated, wealth-generating people driving our economy. And that is the catch 22.

The last three years have shown clearly that Labour do not share the vision of many New Zealanders for the future of our education system. The Greens believe it is crucial that we are strongly represented in the next parliament and that we have the numbers to wield real influence.

So that we can push Labour where it once would have gone on its own.

A poll just released by the NZUSA shows that eighty per cent of New Zealanders support the Green position on universal allowances. Just like the GE debate, the Greens - with just five per cent of parliament - continue to represent the views of most New Zealanders on the key issues for this country's future.

ends


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