Changes to the student loan scheme in 2013 reduced the number of weeks students over 40 can receive a student allowance from 200 weeks to 120. The Waiariki Institute of Technology Students’ Association (WITSA) President Richard Williams says “these changes are discriminatory and are locking New Zealanders out of an education”.
“This Government has made indiscriminate cuts to support for mature students who are desperately in need of retraining and up-skilling. The most abhorrent part about these changes is their retrospective nature, students who made decisions to study before 2013 could not have known they were using up their 120 weeks. Policy changes need to be forward looking, we should not create laws which penalise people for decisions made in the past”, says Williams.
“Since 2011, students aged over 55 have been unable to access weekly living costs and course-related costs. This is particularly harmful for students moving off a benefit as they are unlikely to have personal savings. Without access to the course related costs it is almost impossible to recent beneficiaries meet their upfront course costs.
“It isn’t good enough to say, once the 120 weeks have expired students can still borrow each week. Students who borrow to pay the most basic necessities carry that debt for the rest of their lives. If you receive a student allowance you are entitled to receive $210.88 a week but if you are receiving the living costs (and later have to repay this cost) you are entitled to receive $175.96 per week. Students should not have to borrow to live.
“A $40 a week difference can make a huge difference for students who often have to choose between a warm home or a full belly. In 2000, a student was able to borrow $150 per week, even using modest inflation calculators the present day amount you can borrow of $175.96 falls well below the minimum of what is needed to meet the most basic living costs. A recent longitudinal study showed that 15 percent of students are living in extreme financial distress and can’t meet the most basic housing, transport and food costs.
“If you are over 25 and receiving an unemployment benefit you are eligible to receive a $209.06 per week. But if you are over 40, looking to up-skill but have hit your 120 week cap on allowances you are in an impossible situation. You forfeit receiving a benefit to having to borrow each week at an amount less than what you were receiving earlier. The tertiary system needs better levers to encourage our beneficiaries to get into learning.
“If the Government is sincere about training and up-skilling people so they are able to move off the benefit and into work, the system needs to recognise the public good of education and increase the opportunity for mature learners to access education”, says Williams.