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