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Politicians, Staff, and Students United Against Fee Increase

Politicians, Staff, and Students United Against Fee Increases

Only one-third of full-time, full year, New Zealand students currently have access to allowances. The maximum entitlement per week for a student, aged under 24, without children, and living away from home, is $171.84.

Auckland University Students’ Association (AUSA) and the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) are calling on this government, and successive governments, to seriously increase tertiary education funding. In the short-term, they are calling on the University of Auckland to freeze student fees at the current level.

The Graduate Longitudinal Study, funded by Universities New Zealand, revealed last year that as many as 1 in 6 final year students were living in absolute financial distress: unable to afford basic accommodation, food and housing. Only 1 in 8 students expect to have no debt when they graduate.

Politicians from Labour, Green and New Zealand First stand united with students.

“The root of the problem is the National led government’s continuing under-funding of tertiary education,” says Grant Robertson, Labour MP and Shadow Leader of the House. Robertson continues, “Steven Joyce has a stated goal of ‘dampening down demand’ for tertiary education. That means taking away opportunities from students through restricting access to allowances and loans. Now he is trying to take away the voice of students and staff from Councils. Labour is committed to working alongside students, staff and institutions to oppose this agenda, and to create a more accessible and affordable system.”

Tracey Martin, Tertiary Education Spokesperson from New Zealand First said, “Over the past five years the National led government has cauterized post-graduate allowance, limited the accessibility of higher learning and now we are expecting another blow from Steven Joyce. New Zealand First has always held the view that supporting our students is not just an individual citizen’s future but in the future of New Zealand”.

Gareth Hughes, acting spokesperson for Tertiary Education for the Green Party said, Auckland University’s decision to lock students out of today’s fee setting meeting is unfair, and cuts those affected out of the decision making process. Joyce’s governance changes would only worsen this, treating University councils like corporate boards, instead of the diverse and inclusive organisations they should be. Auckland Uni’s expected 4% fee rise comes on top of 3 years of the maximum fee rise, far outpacing inflation, all while students are struggling on insufficient support. This is only worsening student debt which is already at record levels. The Green vision is of a tertiary education system that is well resourced, vibrant, innovative and responsive to the needs of students and the changing needs of our society.”

Staff and Students Unite

Daniel Haines, AUSA President says “Persistent underfunding of tertiary education has meant the burden is transferred to staff and students as increased fees and redundancies. This government has a targeted policy of reducing the amount of money invested into tertiary education. They have consistently funded education below the operating costs o
f the University.

“For some years, increases in student fees have compensated for the Government’s failure to increase funding annually at a rate proportional to inflation, let alone university costs. Recently, this has forced the most financially vulnerable participants in the tertiary system, the students, to make up the difference.

“These amounts are derisory,” continues Haines, “given rent per week alone is often more than these amounts.”

The graduating student loan debt now average $18,000, up from $15500 in 2010. More than three-quarters of students use a loan to pay for their fees, up 10 percent over the last five years. Families are finding it harder to save for fees.

“An increase in tuition fees always results in inequitable outcomes for women, Māori and Pasifika students,” says Hannah Williams, Auckland University Pacific Island Students’ Association President. “This is because they generally have longer repayment times. Moreover, Māori and Pasifika graduates will on average earn less than Pākehā and/or male graduates.”

Fees at New Zealand Universities have increased 4 percent each year, or 21.7 percent over the past five years. This has run ahead of increased government contribution (16.5% but flat in terms of per-student funding), and the budget of the institution.

Mark Amsler, TEU Co-President said, “We believe the University of Auckland Council should listen hard to the voices of students, families, community leaders and even Minister Steven Joyce, who has cautioned university councils to think carefully about the impact raising fees by the maximum (4%) will have on students and families. Granted, it’s a bit rich for the minister to caution university councils, as the government proposes to reduce representation on university councils and continues to underfund the important, necessary costs of tertiary education in New Zealand. Instead, Government has steadily shifted the rising costs for tertiary education onto students and their families. Something’s gotta give.”

“Students have been paying more for less,” remarks Haines. “The Government needs to step up, but this university also needs to take a principled stance and freeze the fees now.”


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