The national student union says comments by ACT Party leader David Seymour should be withdrawn given the verifiable explosion of stress and anxiety experienced by New Zealand’s tertiary students.
Mr Seymour’s curt advice was given at Victoria University’s Weir House halls of residence last night on the issue of growing mental health issues amongst students, many of whom are under significant pressure from studies, paid work and pilling extra-curricular expectations.
According to multiple reports of the event, Mr Seymour said students would have to “harden up” and passed the microphone down the panel of MPs.
The remarks have led one of the students taken aback by Mr Seymour’s remarks, Sophie Wynn, to launch a petition asking for an apology. Miss Wynn calls on Mr Seymour to “consider how harmful” his comments were to “those who struggle with mental illness”.
National student president Rory McCourt says official data released by New Zealand’s universities shows Mr Seymour’s dismissive approach is out of step with evidence on the issue.
“Between 2009 and 2014 New Zealand’s eight universities experienced a 24 per cent increase in counselling sessions. At Victoria University, where Mr Seymour spoke, the number of individual students being seen by the counselling service has jumped 44.7% in the same time, to 2,139 students last year.”At the University of Auckland the number of sessions rose almost four-fold from 1,215 in 2009 to 6,039 sessions last year. The university’s student numbers rose only 10 per cent over the five year period.
Mr McCourt says the reason for the near-universal rise in counselling sessions is in-part down to increased levels of stress and anxiety. This was confirmed in the union’s recent Income and Expenditure Survey which showed longer paid working hours and mounting debt were taking a toll on students’ mental wellbeing. University recognition of the issue through more available sessions was a good thing and students across the country say they value access to timely, affordable mental health services on campus.
Mr McCourt says Mr Seymour should spend some time on campus with students and ask them about the impact of rising rents, longer working hours and unsustainable academic pressure on their studies and mental health.
“I think we’re risking creating a generation of highly-strung graduates. With rises in counselling sessions on almost all campuses, this is a real issue. We're disappointed Mr Seymour has taken this approach despite the evidence. The data suggests this is a growing problem.”
“How bad does it have to get for politicians to take the deteriorating mental health of our students seriously?”
Student Counselling Sessions League Table:
Institution Sessions in 2009 Sessions in 2014 Change (+/-) Student enrolment Change (+/-) The University of Auckland 1,215 2,139 397% 10% The University of Otago 4600 5772 25% -0.02 Victoria University of Wellington 5729 6982 22% -8% Massey University 4246 5145 21% -12% Waikato University 501 995 99% -0.08% AUT 2629 2927 11% 7% Lincoln University 1034 598 -42% -35% University of Canterbury 2617 3035 16% -20%
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You can read the full NZUSA Tertiary Student Income and Expenditure Survey here:
The NZUSA Tertiary Student Income and Expenditure Survey has been running for 30 years and has a solid reputation. For the latest report 5,000 students were surveyed across the country with a representative sample of universities, polytechnics, internal, distance and age-varied students. The margin of error at the standard 95% confidence level is between 1.36% and 1.94%, depending on the particular question (not all questions were relevant to all participants and therefore the sample size varies across the study).
NZUSA President Rory McCourt says students and their representatives are furious with a Stuff.co.nz article today proclaiming “Studylink money blown on strippers, alcohol and Taylor Swift tickets”. He says the article lacks perspective and creates an inaccurate view of how a government loan scheme is used by students.
The article quotes four anonymous students – including one who studied four years ago-, each of whom used their course-related costs loan to purchase non-course materials and services.
McCourt says the students’ cases are not the norm and reporting them in the way the article did was irresponsible, undermining the prospect of an informed debate on student support and student debt –which reaches $15 billion next year.
Students were taking to social media to vent their frustration at the article, laughing at the idea that there would be enough money in their budgets for a life of luxury.
Mr McCourt says the article “generalises from anecdote the experiences of all students, which is lazy journalism and in this instance just wrong.”
Quoting from the Victoria University Student Financial Services survey from 2011, McCourt says “What the research shows us that the course related costs loan is essential income for students to pay for basics like bus fares, car repairs, bond and rent in advance – especially at the start of the year.”
“42 per cent of students spend their course-related costs loan towards accommodation costs such as bond, rent in advance and set-up costs.”
McCourt says New Zealanders can feel confident in the scheme.
“What the Ministry of Social Development’s audit of the scheme shows us is that New Zealanders can have confidence that students are using this yearly $1000 loan to pay for the basics, there is no fraud here – just shoddy journalism.”
“Good journalism shouldn’t be based on anecdote. The evidence, the auditing and the experience shows that course-related costs loans go on essentials - not luxuries.”
McCourt says the real story is that the Government, which has not indicated any concern with how the scheme is being used, needs to lift the course-related costs loan limit from $1000.
“The loan limit hasn’t increased since 1993, while the cost of transport, fixing your car, software and textbooks has.”
“The reality is that more and more students are struggling and this miserly loan is being used to cover costs student allowances once paid for. In fact, it’s so bad that 28 per cent of students now have credit card debt before they graduate –that’s up from 18 per cent just four years ago.”
McCourt says Stuff.co.nz has covered student issues accurately in the past and he looks forward to working with the company again.
“We’ve sent Fairfax some of the facts and we hope that future debates on student support will be based on data, not anecdata. Students and their families deserve better.”
Unitec Student Council President
NZUSA National President
Auckland University Students' Association President
Massey University Students' Association President
Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association President
NZUSA National Women's Rights Officer
Albany Students' Association (Massey) President
AUT Students' Association President
Otago University Students' Association President
Massey at Wellington Students' Association
The national student union NZUSA and Grey Power say a crash in the number of older New Zealanders studying shows the Government’s discriminatory cuts to student support are turning off prospective learners in their droves.
The total number of Kiwis aged 55 and over enrolled in tertiary study has plummeted from over 33,000 in 2008 to less than 19,000 in 2014, Parliamentary answers reveal.
The drop of 14,082, or 43%, has advocates for students and older New Zealanders asking why the Government was cutting support for life-long learning.
Grey Power President Terry King says “The Government’s cuts to allowances for over 40s were bad enough, but preventing over-55s from accessing any allowances or even a loan to pay the bills has led to a crash in the number of older Kiwis studying. Age discrimination is never acceptable and we see now its consequences.”
NZUSA National President Rory McCourt agrees, saying “You would normally expect the number of over-55s in study to rise during a recession as workers retrain and up-skill. Under National that number has fallen year on year. That’s an embarrassing record for a party that says they're committed to work and growing the economy.”
“Governments of any colour have to realise that we need to support life-long learning. Older Kiwis need to know that there will be assistance to retrain and up-skill if they lose their job or their industry changes. Age discrimination is bad for the economy.”
"A more educated population is good for our society and our economy. People who have worked all their lives deserve just as much access to our public tertiary education system as the next Kiwi."
The Government must return to access to loans and allowances based on need, not age, says Mr McCourt.
Mr King says reinstating $60m of adult and community education funding that was cut in 2009 would also help re-engage older New Zealanders with tertiary education.
“Often a course in a school or community hall is the first step for older Kiwis to consider retraining or up-skilling. We want to contribute, but we have to be supported to get the skills to do that.” says Mr King.
The figures used are from the Hon. David Cunliffe’s question to Minister for Tertiary Education Skills and Employment Steven Joyce.
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