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Tariana Turia: Student Loan Scheme

Student Loan Scheme Amendment Bill (no 2)

First Reading; Thursday 16 November 2006

Tariana Turia, Co-leader Maori Party

Tena tatou katoa

On 31 July this year, the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples in Geneva invited Aotearoa to share their views on Maori student debt.

Nominated to represent Aotearoa at that forum was Potaua Biasiny-Tule, of Tuhoe, Ngati Pikiao, Te Whanau a Apanui and Niuean descent.

Potaua is a student of the world from anyone’s accounts – having graduated with:

a cooking diploma at Waiariki Polytechnic;

a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Canterbury;

a Post-Graduate diploma in Maori and Pacific Development from Waikato University; and

currently looking towards studying a Masters in Public Policy and Administration at Victoria University.

Potaua has assisted with research related to Sustainable Bio-technology and Pacific Island communities and in 1994, was invited to attend the Galipoli Reforestation Project in Turkey.

As the eldest son of eight children, Potaua was born in Opotiki, that in a family he described as working class. He was raised in Fordblock, Rotorua and nurtured to have big ambitions. It was the dream of their family to benefit from university education. Potaua now shares those same aspirations with his wife, Nikolasa, that their young son, Atutahi, may attend a good university, a whare wananga, and that he is able to live the life he dreams of.

Potaua has travelled extensively – but not, this time, to Geneva.

For Potaua is saddled with a personal student debt of $75,000.

He is another statistic faced with the costs of user pays; the loans incurred from a wish to enter the halls of higher learning.

Potaua is one of almost 70,000 Maori who are faced with a cumulative student loan debt which is estimated at $1.225b – out of a total student loan debt of $9 billion.

Mr Speaker, that is the rude context, the reality, with which the Maori Party is able to receive the Student Loan Scheme Amendment Bill.

The key focus of this Bill is to remove barriers to student loan scheme borrowers who are living overseas but seek to return home. The Bill aims to promote fairness in introducing a three-year repayment holiday which takes account of the graduate student trends to go on their OE.

When the three years are up, students will be able to take up a fairer, progressive repayment scheme to support them in meeting their financial responsibilities.

The Student Loan Scheme is of particular concern to the Maori Party.

Maori make up 21% of all borrowers who have had to rely on student loans to support their academic aspirations. The cost of repayments are, however, crippling. In the year 2000, nearly two-thirds of Maori and Pasifika students had not reduced their debt at all three years after study; compared with 41% and 47% for European and Asian groups, respectively.

The reasons for this are complex. One key factor reported by the Ministry of Education last year is low income, particularly income around the student loan repayment threshold.

As the Ministry states, and I quote:

“The average income for Maori with level 1-3 certificates is notably lower than for non-Maori with the same level of qualifications”.

Does this sound like one law for all? One income level for all?

How can one group of graduates be rewarded with an income that is “notably lower” than other students?

Is this fairness? Equity?

But wait, it gets worse.

The Ministry states, and I quote:

“Maori who did not complete, have notably lower incomes than non-Maori who studied at the same level without completing. This may, in part, explain the lower rates of progress in debt repayment for Maori who did not complete diplomas or bachelors degrees”.

The conclusions, as explicit in the briefing from the Ministry of Education, are that whether Maori complete qualifications, or do not complete a particular course or study, is irrelevant. Maori will still be rewarded with “notably lower incomes” than non-Maori.

The Maori Party therefore comes to the 2006 Annual Report of the Student Loan Scheme, published just last month, with a natural curiousity about whether issues of systemic bias or in this instance institutional racism are being tackled by the bureaucracy.

It looked fine from a quick read of the principles for student support:

to ensure equity and fairness

to ensure tertiary education is affordable for students

to ensure consistency with the wider income support system.

Yes, we thought, we could sign up to all of that.

But hello, institutional racism was absent from the report.

Mr Speaker, the crisis of Maori earning “notably lower incomes” than non-Maori must be addressed, and it must be addressed now.

For what we also know, is that Maori students are leaving study with some fairly hefty debts to repay.

It doesn’t seem to matter which profession – the student debts are massive.

A survey of 841 respondents working as early childhood or primary school teachers found that 70% of teachers reported stress because of their student loan – and that 48% of teacher graduates who leave our shores, cite their student loan debt as their main reason why.

Teachers in Debt: A report card – stated that the average student loan debt was $19,089 for Maori compared with $16,035 overall.

Then there’s the medical graduates.

Wasn’t it just this week that headlines announced the pandemic of diabetes was threatening the life-chances of Maori?

And wasn’t it just yesterday that the Minister of Education agreed in question time in the House, that “by Maori, of Maori, for Maori” is a worthwhile goal (although he added some other comments.)

And yet by Maori doctors, of Maori medicine, for Maori communities is clearly not something that this Government is investing in - it is around about this time, when the questioning gets uncomfortable, that Ministers start saying that the issues are "complex".

What is so complex about prejudice covered up in the words like "fair in the circumstances" which is code for - "we are going to continue to deny you justice".

What is so complex about that? What is so complex about politicians who espouse property rights and then collude in denying Maori in their rights to property rights?

What is so complex about a government who having seen how popular playing the race card can be, then goes back on funding by Maori, of Maori, for Maori programmes and in terms of this debate removes the manaaki tauira funding programme for Maori students. That is not complex, that is simple political opportunism of the worst kind.

For the study of the effect of Student Debt on Doctors, entitled, “Doctors and Debt” recorded that the average debt for Maori graduates was $81, 250 – compared to $68,682 for Pakeha and $48, 180 for Asian.

Over $80,000 to pay off before you can even walk in the doors of a health clinic. I don’t think so.

Mr Speaker, the levels of student debt are a blight on this nation.

Seven years ago in November 1999, the Prime Minister told the nation, and I quote:

“Tertiary fee rises are crippling our future. Labour is committed to first stabilising and then lowering tertiary fees”.

And yet, the average fees per student are now grossing $5000 a year.

In the New Zealand University Student Association’s 2004 publication, a Mortgage on the Future, they described the concept of free education as being a possibility.

Most students in the Czech republic, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Brazil, Poland and Romania pay no fees. Indeed, in Finland, free education is a constitutionally protected right.

The Maori Party wants to take part in a vision, where Aotearoa is included in that list of nations, where everyone has the right to education can be interpreted in such a way that there are zero fees; that students will not be saddled with outrageous levels of student debts; that debt repayment is achievable because the level of incomes upon graduation is sufficiently high to do so.

We will, of course, support this Bill because we believe that any incentive to prevent the brain-drain of students leaving for overseas must be supported.

But we remain on guard, to ensure the wider context of increasing fees and lack of access to student allowances is also given priority in this Parliament; so that everyone can truly enjoy the right to education.

ends

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