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A Government that Delivers for Students

Looking Backwards, Moving Forwards: A Government that Delivers for Students

Comments at Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association’s orientation festival. The Quad, Kelburn campus.

Introduction

I’m pleased to able to join you during Orientation. Orientation’s a good time. I remember it well, as a student and then as a staff member at Massey University.

It’s about the start of new things…new goals, new courses and new learning leading to a new qualification and probably a few new student experiences along the way as well.

Our Record of Helping Students

Orientation is NOT what it used to be a decade ago in some important respects and I’m very pleased about that.

The 1990s saw spiralling tuition fees. Fees increased by 14% a year with no ability for students, like you, and their families to predict what they were going to cost from one year to the next.

In our first term, the Labour-led government put an end to all that fee spiral of the 1990s. We could not put an end to fees completely….no government is likely to be able to afford that in the foreseeable future.

We committed enough money over three Budgets to increase funding levels for public tertiary institutions by a total of 9.8% so that they could afford to (and were in turn obliged to) freeze fees at 2000 levels.

If we had not been elected and fees had kept going up at the same rate as they did in the 1990s then students would be paying on average $1,000 more this year, with the prospect of a further increase for 2004.

We also ended the inequity that saw student loan borrowers facing compounding interest of 7 or 8 per cent while they continued to study and were unable to make any repayment.

We’ve made sure all interest on the loans of those in full-time study is written off at the end of the financial year. Those in part-time study on low incomes have also had their interest written off.

Those are some of the main things that the Labour-led government did for students in its first term.

I’m not going to go into detail about the tertiary education reforms of the last two or three years.

Those reforms are now shifting the sector from a free-market competitive model to a cooperative and collaborative strategic approach, a search for even more high quality teaching and research, and greater responsiveness to the needs of students and communities; and our New Zealand needs as a nation.

The Next Phase

So what will the second term of this government mean for students? Our agenda for the next three years is:

Predictable fees;

Fair loans; and

Wider allowance eligibility

Fee Maxima

In the area of fees, it is time to move on from the ‘freezes’ that were introduced as an interim measure last term. We can’t lock institutions forever into a schedule of fees that were decided upon in 1999. Circumstances have changed and the differences between the same course at different institutions often has very little logic to it.

We also want to give longer-term security to students.

Every year the fee freeze was a negotiation with institutions, in which there was always the possibility that one or more might decide to decline the supplementary funding offer and raise their fees. And students certainly didn’t have any certainty about their fees the year after next.

The May 2003 Budget will set out the maximum fees that will be in place for courses of study for the 2004 academic year, and indicative fees for both 2005 and 2006.

This will give students, intending students and parents greater predictability as to the costs that they will face.

The Review of Student Support

We also have a comprehensive Review of Student Support underway, dealing with the loans and allowances side of the equation. We’re looking to develop a sustainable set of policies for student support, rather than individual band-aid solutions.

We’ll be publishing the outcome of the Review in a document in May or June this year.

I can give you some idea of some of the initiatives we’ll be covering, since they are ones that we committed ourselves to in last year’s election policy.

We intend to extend Student Loan Scheme eligibility to part-time, part-year students in approved courses. This won’t mean a lot to most students but it will be a major boon for many distance students as the Extramural Students’ Society can attest.

We will be making sure that loans are not being taken up for non-educational purposes so anyone planning to use their student loan to become a sports car owner or international jet-setter should forget it.

A major focus of the Review will be extending eligibility for student allowances. This will be achieved in a combination of ways.

We will widen student allowance eligibility for single full-time students aged 18-24, beginning by progressively raising the parental income thresholds and you’ll hear more about this in coming months.

Eligibility for the Unemployment Benefit Student Hardship (formerly the EUB) will be widened.

We will restore allowance eligibility to those tertiary students aged 16 and 17 who have finished year 13 at school.

We’ll also develop fairer provisions for non-custodial parents and parents with more than one dependent child in tertiary education.

Conclusion

That gives you an idea of the work that we have underway. The last three years were busy and exciting ones for students and the tertiary education sector.

The next three years promise to be equally, even more, so.

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