Budget 2020 made steps towards addressing student financial hardship and barriers to tertiary education, but it missed the critical opportunity to transform the tertiary education sector for good.
New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) President Isabella Lenihan-Ikin says “Budget 2020 is a step in the right direction. However, the government has taken a band-aid approach to addressing student hardship and the barriers to tertiary education more broadly.”
There are three components of the Budget 2020 that provide support to tertiary students.
$20 Million Tertiary Student Hardship Fund
One of the demands of the National Student Action Plan on Covid-19 was a student hardship fund. It is pleasing to see that the government has listened to learners by delivering this much needed assistance to alleviate student hardship.
Lenihan-Ikin says “although this fund provides short-term relief to students facing hardship arising from Covid-19, it does not go far enough to address the long-term challenges of poverty, financial insecurity and rising living costs that tertiary students are experiencing.”
Donna, a full-time nursing student and solo mother says that “this fund is a drop in the ocean in terms of the financial support that is required. I should not live in a state of poverty just to get a qualification, that will ultimately contribute to the delivery of health care in New Zealand.”
Free Trades Training and Apprenticeships
The government's $1.6 billion investment in training and apprenticeships to remove the cost of tuition fees, supports the governments’ movement towards a barrier free tertiary education. The absence of age requirements upholds the value of education being a lifelong passport to opportunity.
Lenihan-Ikin believes that “the investment in trades training to students of all ages is a step in the right direction. It suggests that the government understands that the financial cost of tertiary education is a barrier to access.”
However, this $1.6 billion investment does not alleviate the substantial week-to-week cost of being a student.
Eastern Institute of Technology Student President Andrew Lessells says “calls from learners to increase student allowance and living costs and to adjust the age thresholds to access StudyLink support, remain unanswered.”
Adult and Community Education
Adult and Community Education was defunded by the last government, but today the Government committed $16 million to invest in these programmes, creating opportunities for people to upskill and retrain.
This will be crucial for those who may lose or have lost their job as a result of Covid-19, and will open up doors for adults with families and existing jobs to continue their education in a more accessible way.
Lenihan-Ikin says that “this Budget missed the mark by failing to deliver sufficient ongoing support measures for tertiary students in a time of significant hardship and uncertainty, which are more pronounced for already marginalised communities”
“Despite their election promise, the government has not reinstated the postgraduate student allowance, and student allowances and loan weekly payments remain at unliveable levels. Other existing caps on these services which shut disadvantaged people out of education, such as age restrictions and weekly limits, have not been addressed.”
“We know that the only way the government can truly support tertiary students is by introducing a Universal Education Income / Te Rourou Matanui-a-Wānanga. 5000 students have already called on the government to implement this” Lenihan-Ikin says.
Budget 2020 could have been transformative for students and tertiary education. Instead, the government delivered us a band-aid budget.