The tragic death of South Auckland toddler Emma-Lita Bourne has led to fresh calls from the national student union for nationwide rental standards.
National president of the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations, Rory McCourt says, “Nick Smith has been making excuses about not tackling shoddy private rentals by saying he was getting the Government’s own house in order first. Clearly he failed. To have state houses without carpets and insulation is completely negligent. To do nothing to lift rental standards after seven years is just gutless.”
“While this case is extreme, the coroner’s findings show in black and white what we already know – that cold, damp houses make us sick. Students know it, parents know it, and doctors know it.”
“Minister Smith claims he wants to see the evidence first. Well, the research is all there and has been for some time. The sticking point is whether the Government has the courage to take on the landlord lobby."
"Perhaps this untimely loss will help them find that courage and safeguard New Zealand's tenants so that this never happens again." says Mr McCourt.
Reading the New Zealand Herald from the 1st of June will be a slap in the face for most Auckland students, who are struggling to pay out of control rents and face a lifetime of never entering the property ladder thanks to crushing debt.
National student union president Rory McCourt says while no one begrudges student Brandon Lipman his success, his options to work full time and save rent-free while studying were not available to most students.
“Most students in Auckland pay over $200 a week in rent for a single room in a flat, plus food and power. Mr Lipman has saved well over $20,800 by living at home for free with his parents for two years.”
The Herald did not go into whether Mr Lipman was borrowing living costs, as most students do to pay for basics like rent, accruing about $21,115 of debt over their three-year degree.
Again, the Herald did not disclose whether Mr Lipman was borrowing to pay university tuition fees. For the overwhelming majority (74 per cent) of students who do borrow for fees, the average borrowing amount is $27,075 for a three-year degree.
On those figures, Mr McCourt says, most students leave university about $50,000 in the red.
Mr McCourt says most students work an average of 17 hours a week, in addition to full-time study. But the opportunity to work full-time, even at nights, was not available to everyone.
“If you’re on a nursing, teaching or medical placement, you can’t do that placement as well study as well as work full-time.”
“Students are already working too many hours. We as taxpayers support tertiary education to the tune of billions of dollars so students can focus on their studies and get the skills to contribute back. Tertiary education should not be a low-wage employment subsidy.”
Mr McCourt warned that stories like the Herald's could misrepresent the reality of student life and the prospects of the next generation.
“Things have changed since our parent’s generation. There’s constant assessment, part-time jobs don’t pay what they did, rent has tripled as a share of student income and summer jobs barely get you through the summer –let alone paying for fees. That’s on top of the $14 billion student debt millstone.”
“Most students are wondering how they’ll afford next week’s rent or ever pay back their mounting loan. Mr Lipman’s story is the exception, not the reality.”
“It’s not about hard work anymore. It’s about whether making the Kiwi dream even adds up for the next generation. The toxic mix of high rents, big debt and insane house prices means for the majority, it doesn't.” says McCourt.
Note: Borrowing figures are taken from the Student Loan Scheme Annual Report 2014. Rent figures are taken from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s bond database. Student work hour figures are taken from the NZUSA Tertiary Student Income and Expenditure Survey 2014.
The national student union NZUSA is putting its full weight behind the growing calls by the New Zealand Medical Students’ Association, political parties, youth wings and professional associations for the Government to immediately reinstate access to the loans system for medical students.
National President Rory McCourt says the Government’s 2011 introduction of a seven-year cap on what all students could borrow for fees was poorly targeted and could lead to a crisis in the health workforce within a few short years.
“It makes zero sense to block hard-working, aspirational students who want to save lives from being able to borrow what they need to finish their studies.”
“If we’re going to have user-pays education and force students to borrow, we might as well make sure they can borrow enough and for long enough."
“We 100% support medical students' right to finish their studies. It’s the right thing to do for our students and the right thing to do for our health system.”
The union is calling for the introduction of exceptions to loans and allowance limits for courses like medicine.
“We think it’s time for the introduction of exceptions within a National Importance category. The category would include qualifications where graduates are in high demand or their study is otherwise necessary for the advancement of New Zealand’s society and economy.”
NZUSA National President Rory McCourt said the wide-ranging and ideologically disparate support for the move to reinstate access should be a wake-up call for the Government.
“The Government stuffed this one up. It’s time to do what’s right and back our hard-working medical students, on that we agree with the Young Nats.” says McCourt.
The national student union NZUSA has welcomed moves by the Government to reduce the fee increases institutions can charge students, but has warned that two major student problems remain unresolved: rent and debt.
The proposed fee change, which will limit universities and polytechnics to 3 per cent fee hikes instead of the current 4 per cent was expected to save the average student $60 per year on what they might have been charged.
If institutions continue with their current practice of putting fees up by the maximum permitted, the change will mean that average annual Bachelor of Arts fee of $6209.35 will go up by $180 next year, instead of $240.
National student president Rory McCourt says “While the theoretical saving is welcome, $60 is nothing compared to the fees and charges that the Government has slapped on students since 2008.”
“Let’s remember we’re still going to have fee hikes, just smaller hikes.”
McCourt was critical of the Government’s move to freeze the parental income threshold for allowances for a further four years, meaning up to an extra 4,000 students from modest-income families would have to borrow to live.
“Budget 2015 does nothing to reduce the $14 billion student debt mountain that keeps on growing. In fact, their cuts to allowances may actually accelerate its cancer-like growth.”
“Under National student debt has shot up four billion dollars since 2008. Toxic debt is a drag on our economy and is preventing the next generation from entering the housing market. The Government must reign in the ballooning private cost of tertiary education. It’s time for real reform, not just tinkering.”
“What Budget 2015 ignores is the out of control rent rises students are facing across the country, particularly in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Even in Gisborne rents shot up by 20 per cent in the year to April, TradeMe reveals.”
“Last year the average Auckland student rent went up $430 (or $8.26 per week) for a single room in a three bedroom flat. MBIE’s predictions show it happening again this year. Student support has increased by only 90 cents per week. The Government has got to give students enough to live on” says McCourt.
On the 21st of May NZUSA, the national student union, released its wishlist for the Government’s Budget on behalf of New Zealand’s 400,000 students. Desired changes include reversing National’s worst cuts and immediate support for accommodation in the cities hardest hit by the housing affordability crisis.
National president Rory McCourt said out of control rents were taking away opportunity to study for too many bright New Zealanders.
“After seven years of cuts to tertiary education and the double whammy of a housing crisis: it’s time the Government made changes to give Kiwis more opportunity, not less.”
Rents rose by an average of 6.3% in the year to May, according to TradeMe. The average student now pays $218.16 for a room in Auckland (up $8.26 on last year), and $188.70 in Wellington (up $11.52).
One of NZUSA’s initiatives received unlikely support from the Taxpayer’s Union, Stuff.co.nz reports. Union head Jordan Williams said he supported the idea in principle. McCourt welcomed Williams’ comments to Fairfax that “targeting those who don't come from a family where tertiary education is the norm could be a very effective way to bring lower socioeconomic groups out of the poverty cycle.”
Students’ Budget Wishlist 2015:
1. Restore postgraduate allowances. The cut hasn’t saved money, but it has hurt the students who should be supported to research and innovate. The number of postgrad students taking on debt to pay for basics like rent has shot up by 32.62% since the change
2. Introduce a universal housing grant in cities where weekly rent is gobbling up more than 70% of student income.
3. Begin adequately funding universities and polytechnics so that they stop passing cost rises onto students.
4. Scrap the unfair 12c repayment rate that kicks in at $19,800. Replace it with an Australian-style progressive repayment system so those that can pay, do and those that can’t can have enough take home pay to survive.
5. Introduce a $10,000 national First in Family Scholarship. To break the cycle of the poverty of opportunity and encourage students from families with no history of degree level study to participate in degree-level tertiary education. It’s the cheapest way of ensuring rising levels of participation in the transformative experience of tertiary education. Good for students, even better for underrepresented communities.
6. Lift the course related costs loan cap (frozen since 1993) to $10,000 for first-year students and $3,000 for other students. Students are getting into bank and credit card debt just to pay for basics like upfront hall costs and art supplies. It’s about access.
7. Restore full access for over-40s to student allowances, and access to allowances and loans for over-65s. This is age discrimination and may be illegal under the UN Human Rights Convention.
8. Restore the national significance exceptions to the 200-week limit on student allowances, by restoring a category of qualifications of national significance where students could have access to further years of allowances based on the qualification sought. Cutting this has hit medical students hardest, who take longer than six years to complete their degree. They shouldn’t have the rug pulled from under them when still completing their first degree.
9. Begin to lift the parental income threshold again (frozen since 2008) so that more students, not less, can receive student allowances. Since 2012 there has been a 20 per cent reduction in the number of students eligible for allowances.
10. Stop shafting students, please xo
The National President of the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations, the organisation that represents the interests of New Zealand’s 400,000 tertiary students, says students have low expectations for what this week’s budget might deliver.
“After seven long years of cuts to student support and underfunding of our universities and polytechnics I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more of the same.”
“Since 2008 National has made a series of cuts that on their own seem justifiable given the state of the global economy. But now people are seeing the cost of those cuts. Those cuts add up to a severe reduction in opportunity for New Zealanders and the public has cottoned on.”
“We’ve felt seven years of pain. Where’s the gain? Where’s the break? Where’s the plan for more opportunity, not less? I think New Zealanders deserve to know why their kids have never had it so tough in tertiary education” says McCourt.
Mr McCourt says if the Government is serious about maintaining open access to New Zealand’s world-class education system then it must immediately introduce support for student housing costs in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch and begin to tackle the $14 billion student debt mountain.
“It’s time the Government finally did something positive for students. After seven long years of getting shafted students and their families are worse off with more toxic debt and rents going through the roof.”
“There is a limit to how far you can cut opportunity without eroding the meritocracy New Zealand is based on.”
McCourt says long-term the challenge for the Government is to harness the transformative power of tertiary education in building a more resilient, fair, economy."
“The real test of whether this is a good budget is if it starts to lay out a vision for where New Zealand will head after the global financial crisis: Will we finally tackle out of control rents? Will we build the systems to support life-long learning required in a constantly changing global economy? Will we address the burgeoning $14 billion debt mountain? -Or will it be more of the same?”
“We’re not holding our breath.” says McCourt.
Since 2008, the National-led Government has:
• Reduced access for over-40s to 120 weeks of student allowance
• Cut all access to allowances and loans for over-65s
• Hiked the repayment rate for graduates to 12c in the dollar, from 10c, in addition to income tax
• Frozen the graduate repayment income threshold at $19,084. In Australia it is AU$53,245, and starts at 4 per cent of income after that
• Cut access to allowances for students who didn’t pass at least half of their papers in the previous two years
• Hiked the ‘loan establishment fee’ to $60
• Introduced an annual $40 administration fee for students who have an outstanding loan
• Together the establishment and administration fee saw $32.8 million charged to students and graduates in 2013/14
• Removed all exceptions to 200-week limit on student allowances, including those in the ‘national importance’ category. This has hit medical students hardest, who take longer than six years to complete their degree
• Cut real funding to polytechnics
• Frozen the parental income threshold (which usually adjusts with inflation), resulting in a 20 per cent reduction in the number of students eligible for allowances since 2012
• Cut all allowances for postgraduate students, leading to proportionally fewer research masters than before, which is bad for innovation and future growth
• Allowed student debt to grow from $10 billion in 2008 to over $14 billion in 2015
• Held the $40/week cap in student accommodation support flat as as rents have skyrocketed
The national student union NZUSA this week hosted four days of conferences on issues in the tertiary education sector with students and staff from universities, institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs), alongside Ako Aotearoa –the National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence.
The conferences covered how student voice can be used to lift the quality of education at universities and polytechnics and improve compliance with Government regulations. Guest speakers included Hannah Clarke from Student Participation in Quality Scotland (sparqs), as well as the New Zealand Academic Quality Agency, and senior officials from the Ministry of Education.
On Thursday a whole day was dedicated to discussion on the Compulsory Student Services Fee (CSSF), the charge institutions levy students for services like gyms and disability support. Minister Stephen Joyce had indicated support for more student voice in the setting and allocation of the CSSF for a number of years. Victoria University, which supported the conference, took the opportunity to showcase its partnership with the local students' association over their CSSF. As a result, many institutional staff present indicated they were interested in adopting Victoria's model.
NZUSA Executive Director Dr Alistair Shaw said the key to improving institutions was self-reflection and promoting best practice.
“The Ministry of Education, NZQA and the Academic Quality Agency all expect institutions to reflect on themselves and continuously improve through hearing and heeding the student voice. NZUSA has been proud to work alongside institutions to do that this week and beyond.”
NZUSA President Rory McCourt says the conferences were a huge success and showed staff and students were equally committed to improving the quality of New Zealand’s public tertiary institutions.
“Partnership was the word from these conferences. Staff and students both embraced the message from our speakers that the only way we can improve is by working with each other to hear and heed the student voice”.
McCourt says he expects the conferences will lead to concrete improvements at many institutions and greater support for New Zealand’s students’ associations.
“VSM hit many of New Zealand’s students’ associations pretty hard. A strong message from these conferences was that students need to be supported to organise and speak for themselves before they can meaningfully engage in quality improvement alongside management. Now is the time for us all to rebuild our associations to achieve that- students and staff.”
McCourt was thankful for the ongoing support of Ako Aotearoa and says he is hopeful the conferences will be held again.
The national student union slammed the 90 cent increase to student allowances and living cost loan payments as an April fool’s joke in the face of runaway cost of living increases.
"This piddly increase doesn’t even go halfway in paying for the kind of rent rises we’re seeing in Auckland, Christchurch and actually all across the country," said national student president Rory McCourt.
"Even in Hamilton the average student is paying three dollars more in rent per week than last year. In Auckland it’s been a nine dollar hike. With increases like that, this rise is simply a joke."
McCourt said across the country rent was swallowing up a greater and greater share of a student’s income.
"If you’re a student in Dunedin, rent now gobbles up 70 per cent of your income. Only a few years ago that was a third, with some left over at the end of the week. Such sharp rent rises mean less money for basics like food and power."
"I think most parents and grandparents would be shocked to see how much their loved ones pay in rent each week with such little income. As New Zealanders we expect all people should have enough money to pay for the basics. That’s not happening anymore for New Zealand’s students."
Read coverage of our comments in the New Zealand Herald and Stuff.co.nz.
On the 19th of March the national student union NZUSA joined with the Tertiary Education Union to launch the two organisations’ campaign to maintain elected staff and student representatives on New Zealand’s eight university councils.
National student president Rory McCourt joined TEU national president Sandra Grey on the steps of the University of Otago registry in Dunedin to speak on this vital issue.
The campaign is asking each university council to ensure that at least one-third of their seats are independent, democratically elected staff and students.
Rory McCourt said “Staff and students are the people that make universities great. We’re the one’s doing the teaching and learning, and asking the big questions that universities exist to ask.”
“The evidence, and over-whelming international experience, shows that these important perspectives add value to this kind of institution, and protect it against top-down group-think. The importance of this cannot be overstated in the context of a ministerial power-grab.”
McCourt rejected the idea, suggested by some Vice-Chancellors, that staff and student representatives can be appointed, rather than elected.
“University councils exist to guide our institutions in fulfilling their fundamental purposes: to be the critic and conscience of society, to raise a mirror-glass to the face of New Zealand and reveal what and how we truly are, and ask us whether we wish to change. To achieve this sacred mission, institutions and their councils must be bastions of academic freedom, allowing staff and students to think, to criticise, to challenge. How can we do that when we’re not evenly independently represented on the top table?”
“There’s no point in replacing the current genuine, critical voices with lackeys and yes-men. It’s a dangerous fool’s paradise, and will damage our institutions.”
“I challenge each university to live up to their responsibility to be the critic and conscience of New Zealand society. That starts with keeping independent, democratically elected staff and students on their own councils.”
NZUSA will be working with local associations and TEU branches to lobby New Zealand’s dozens of university councillors. Consultation periods for universities will take place over the next couple of months.
Due to an unexpected use of urgency, Phil Twyford’s Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill came before the Parliament last tonight.
Students had been urging politicians of all parties to put partisan politics aside and support the bill that promised to dramatically improve the lives of thousands of New Zealand’s students.
Twyford’s bill would have require landlords to meet standards for insulation and heating, to be set by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority.
National student president Rory McCourt said “For thousands of New Zealand’s students living in places like Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington and Palmerston North this bill would have brought hope for winters without colds and flats without mould.”
“A crappy flat is no longer a badge of pride; nor is it cheap. Even in Dunedin the average student now spends almost 70% of their income on paying rent due to rising housing costs in recent years. Rightly- they expect warm, dry accommodation for that not insubstantial sum. Times have changed and the law needs to change with them.” said McCourt.
“We can’t wait for Nick Smith to take another 18 months to trial minimum standards in state housing and then maybe extend it to the private market, if he feels like it.”
“Rents jumped 9% last year. A lot of students are paying through the nose for cold, damp flats. We just want affordable housing that doesn’t make us sick.” said McCourt.
“We’re disappointed National was more interested in political point scoring than ensuring the next generation of doctors, nurses, teachers and business people can focus on their studies, rather than being sick due to poor quality housing.” concluded McCourt.