29 August 2017
Students welcome Labour’s tertiary education announcement
The New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) has welcomed the Labour Party’s announcement today that they will accelerate their three-years’ free tertiary education policy and lift student support.
National President Jonathan Gee says, ’tertiary education should be a right for all, not a privilege for the few. Making tertiary-study more affordable for students, and their families, means that New Zealanders from lower socio-economic backgrounds are one step closer to experiencing the transformative power of education.’
Gee says that while Labour’s original announcement in 2016 was a step in the right direction, its long implementation period did not give students reassurance.
‘The original policy was a distant idea of ‘the right thing to do’, but did not completely satisfy students and their families who are considering tertiary study but fear the squeeze of high tuition fees and rising rents.’
The announcement addresses three recommendations made by NZUSA in its Income and Expenditure Report 2017 and Budget 2017 wishlist; namely restoring postgraduate allowances, restoring national significance exceptions on allowances for courses such as medicine, and addressing the rising cost of living.
‘Students are telling us that they barely have enough to live on. Even with a part-time job students are struggling, and are forced to focus on economic survival rather than academic success. An extra $50 in allowances will be of great assistance to these students.’
However, Gee suggests that more still needs to be done to improve the accessibility of tertiary study, and lifting the maximum that can be borrowed for living costs is only a short-term solution. Instead, NZUSA recommends increasing access to the student allowance (the money you don’t have to pay back), which currently only 33% of students are eligible for since the current Government froze the parental income threshold eligibility five years ago.
‘Increasing student loan borrowing might be a short-term solution to meeting basic needs, but it still leaves graduates with a significant amount of debt in the long-term. As student loan debt reaches $16 billion, students and graduates are crying out for relief of this debt burden.’
‘What we also need is greater access to the student allowance, so that tertiary-study becomes a way out of poverty, not a way into it.’
Free tertiary education is not an alien concept.
‘Let’s not forget that free tertiary education is a reality for students in countries like Germany, Scotland, Norway, and even parts of the United States. The majority of MPs in the most recent parliamentary term also supported some form of free tertiary-study. It is something within our reach.’
Gee says that this is not the end of the conversation about student support, and that a whole-of-sector approach is needed to remove all barriers to tertiary education.
‘For this to work we also need professional, consistent and high quality careers education in the compulsory sector so students from decile 1 schools are given the same options as those in decile 10 schools. We also must remember that tertiary education is not just university, but includes polytechnics, wānanga, trades and apprenticeships.’
‘We look forward to engaging with the next government, of whatever shape, to work towards a barrier-free education for all.’
NZUSA is the national voice of students in tertiary education. The organisation is governed by students’ associations from universities and polytechnics around the country.