Dunne lets us down

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Peter Dunne's decision not to support a bill requiring student voices on university councils is disappointing, says the national student union.

Mr Dunne, a former University of Canterbury Students' Association President, sided with ACT and the National Party to vote down David Cunliffe's bill 61-60 this afternoon.

NZUSA President Rory McCourt asks "Why didn't Parliament take the opportunity to send this bill to select committee and reach a lasting compromise on the size of university councils and the place of student voice?"

"Instead, Steven Joyce's unwanted legislation continues. It doesn't make our universities better, but it does make independent voices optional."

"Students and staff are what make our universities. We should be supporting those independent voices at every opportunity."

Mr McCourt says voting down the bill will send students a message.

"First the Government kneecapped independent student unions and has now voted twice to allow students to be kicked out of decision-making. Clearly the student voice is no longer important. Critical voices are not wanted."

Mr McCourt says independent student voice produced politicians from all stripes, including cabinet ministers Paula Bennett and Hekia Parata, as well as fresh National MP Todd Muller. He wishes that they would do more to ensure independent student voice could continue to come through.

Mr McCourt is thankful for the support of New Zealand First, the Maori Party, the Greens and Labour on the issue.

 

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Youth Unemployment Rise Worries Students

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Student leaders are reporting increasing concern amongst students of their graduate prospects as the unemployment rate rises to 6% and youth unemployment increases 1.7% to 15.33%.

National student president Rory McCourt says the issue was increasingly coming up as he spoke to groups of students and student leaders across the country.

“Students across the country have been telling us that they’re worried about their job prospects. From Lincoln students worried about the resiliency of the primary and secondary sectors to keep taking on highly specialized graduates through to Waiariki polytechnic students concerned about regional economies, our students are anxious about their job prospects.”

For the largest cohort looking to graduate, 20 to 24 year olds, the unemployment rate is 11.8% for the September quarter, up from 10.5% twelve months ago, according to the Government's Household Labour Force Survey.

“These figures mean more graduates are joining the dole queue, and for most that’s a sad reward for racking up so much student debt.”

Mr McCourt says the Government was premature to tout a fall in the NEET (not in employment, education or training) figures. They actually worsened amongst 20-24 year olds, rising from 15% to 15.1% of the working age population for the year to September, even as the average amongst all 15-24 year olds fell 0.5% down to 11.0%.

The NEET rate for that wider pool had jumped around between 11.0 and 11.3 per cent in five of the last eight quarters, so the current fall’s significance is questionable.

“Even if more 15-19 year olds are in training or education, our members say studying forever is not an option –especially with the Government cutting so much support to postgraduate students.”

Mr McCourt says the Government must do more combat unemployment, and seriously consider reversing cuts to student support if unemployment amongst young people continued to rise. Since 2010 the Government cut the number of students eligible for allowances by 24%.

The data also confirms trends seen in the NZUSA Income and Expenditure Survey that more students are taking on paid work to make ends meet. In 2015, there were 67.9% 20-24 year olds in employment and education at the same time, up from 55.9% in 2012. This development has been concerning some academics, with many students skipping classes to make shifts in part-time and full-time jobs.

Youth Unemployment 15-24 year olds

September 2014

13.67%

December 2014

14.94%

March 2015

15.43%

June 2015

14.07%

September 2015

15.33%

 

Youth Unemployment 20-24 year olds

September 2014

10.5%

December 2014

11.0%

March 2015

11.8%

March 2015

10.6%

September 2015

11.8%

 

Youth Unemployment 15-19 year olds

September 2014

19.4%

December 2014

21.4%

March 2015

21.4%

June 2015

20.3%

September 2015

21.8%

 
Note: Data taken from Statistics New Zealand's quarterly Household Labour Force Survey, released 04 November.

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Seymour should sharpen up on facts over ‘harden up’ comments

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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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Stuff article strips debate of facts - student presidents

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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.”

 

Matalena O'Mara

Unitec Student Council President

Rory McCourt

NZUSA National President


Paul Smith

Auckland University Students' Association President


Linsey Higgins

Massey University Students' Association President


Rick Zwaan

Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association President

Izzy O'Neill 

NZUSA National Women's Rights Officer 


Byron Brooks

Albany Students' Association (Massey) President

 

April Pokino

AUT Students' Association President

 

 

Paul Hunt

Otago University Students' Association President

 

 

                         Tom Pringle

Massey at Wellington Students' Association
                             President
 

 

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Killer houses demand urgent action from gutless Government

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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.

 

 

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Herald investor story a fantasy for most

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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.

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Med student crisis wake-up call

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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.

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Budget does nothing for Generation Rent

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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.

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Students release Budget wishlist

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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

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Budget 2015: Low expectations after seven years of getting shafted

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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

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Partnership the word from successful national student voice conferences

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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.

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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.

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Students slam piddly rise

 

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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.

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Students stand up for democratic universities

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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.”

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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.

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Students disappointed over housing bill

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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.

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Govt’s 90 cent Cost of Living increase pales compared to Housing Crisis Hikes for Students

24 February 2015
Media Release: New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations

While the Government has announced cost of living increases of 0.51 per cent to benefit levels “to ensure that those people who rely on state assistance aren’t disadvantaged by inflation”, the students’ union is pointing out the fact that Government support is not nearly keeping pace with real increases to the cost of living faced by New Zealand’s 400,000 students.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley announced yesterday that benefit and superannuation payments to more than a million New Zealanders will increase on April 1, following legislation passed in 2011 that made sure that benefits increase each year in line with inflation.

The claim that “Rates and thresholds for … StudyLink assistance will rise to keep up with increasing living costs” is simply not true, says the New Zealand Union of Students’ Association's National President Rory McCourt.

“The 90 cents a week increase to student allowance and living cost loan rates does nothing for students facing a $10 or $20 a week hike in their rent from last year, which was already unaffordable.”

“Accommodation costs are galloping in front of general inflation. Just last week TradeMe revealed a 9 per cent hike in average New Zealand rents for the year to January. For students, it’s even worse.” says McCourt.

“The housing crisis means the Government’s increase does not do its job of protecting fixed-income New Zealanders against changes in the real cost of living. New Zealand’s students need a top-up.”

The worsening situation highlights how broken the student support system is, he says.

“The accommodation benefit, which the poorest 40% of full-time students who qualify for student allowances receive, has been capped for over a decade. If you’re a student in Auckland, you’re now supposed to pay your average rent of $220 a week with a $40 accommodation grant. It’s ludicrous.” says McCourt. 

Twenty years ago, when the student allowance and loan scheme was introduced, accommodation costs for students in a place like Auckland made up half their weekly income.

“Now the cost of rent alone makes up more than what a student gets in the hand from their allowance. Even worse, for the majority of students who borrow to live there’s a $40 a week gap to pay the rent.”

“It’s time the Government took the student housing crisis seriously before we lock a generation out of tertiary education.” McCourt concludes.

Figures per week:

  • Maximum student allowance: $174.21, rises to $175.10
  • Maximum accommodation benefit (for allowance students only, living away from home): $40 in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch
  • Maximum student loan living costs: $175.96, rises to $176.86
  • Average student rent in Auckland (bedroom in 3 bedroom flat): $218.16 in 2014, up from 209.90 in 2013 (based on MBIE Housing Data)
  • National average annual rent rise: 9% to January 2015 (TradeMe)
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Government cuts student voice - Now it's up to University Councils

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11 February 2015

Media Release from the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations

The Government passed its widely-panned Education Amendment Bill in a rush through Parliament last night. The bill shrinks New Zealand’s university councils down to a maximum of 12 and removes the requirement for student and staff representatives on councils.

The new law makes New Zealand’s university councils amongst the smallest in the world, with none of the world’s top universities having councils so unrepresentative and dominated by government appointees.

The move now leaves it up to each of the eight universities to determine how they allocate their few seats by rewritting their constitutions ahead of the Minister’s deadline of 2016. That gives national student president Rory McCourt hope that all universities will use this opportunity to choose to keep students and staff at the top table.

“We know from the evidence that having people from the coalface, people who know what it’s like to teach or be a student, can mean a world of difference in the performance of governing boards.” says McCourt.

“Without the real-world experience of students and staff an institution risks heading down a path blind to the realities of the decision they make, or could make.”

“Universities have for centuries been collegial communities where every voice was valued, where challenges to authority were expected and where conscience was valued alongside expertise. Surely no one wants to lose what makes universities universities?”

“We’ll be working with partners to show university councils the value of having students and staff involved in strategic decision-making. We think at least one third of a council should be students and staff; democratically elected, independent of university management or Ministerial interference, and accountable to their peers.

“It makes sense that at least one of the student representatives is the students’ association president. Associations are key to providing student representatives who are in touch and accountable to the student body. They also provide the infrastructure required to support a councillor in doing their job well.”

“Now it’s in the hands of each university council. We are confident over next year they’ll each make the right decision to secure student and staff voices through at least one third of their top table.” says McCourt.

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Housing Crisis hitting Students

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“Housing crisis hitting students” - New national student president

10 February 2015
Media Release: New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations

Newly elected president of the the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) Rory McCourt says incomes for students have not kept up with the rising cost of accommodation, particularly in Auckland and Christchurch.

“As students return to or think about begining study, they’ll be looking at their weekly budgets and finding the rise in the cost of rent is outstripping their government support for yet another year. For some students that might mean clocking up more hours at their part-time job, to the detriment of their studies. For other students it might mean leaving study for this year until they’ve saved a bit,” the national student president says.

“I think many parents and grandparents wouldn’t realise that in a place like Auckland, where the average student pays well over $200 a week for a room in a flat, their loved one is isn’t even receiving enough support to pay rent and power.”

“Even outside of Auckland, the average student will be borrowing the maximum, about $180 a week, and paying at least two-thirds, if not all of it, in rent alone. For a large portion of students, they can’t even borrow enough to live.”

McCourt says taking students’ housing cost concerns to the Government will be a large focus for the national student movement this year.

“In the last five years average rents in Auckland have increased by $50 per week, from $175 to $225 for a room in a three bedroom house. But the accommodation benefit that the poorest students get as part of their student allowance hasn’t gone up at all because of a cap that was reached thirteen years ago. To make things worse, only one in three students even receive the  $40 a week accomodation support. For most students, who borrow to live, the weekly amount they can draw down has edged up by just $15 a week over the same period.”

“Every other low income New Zealander can access accommodation support that keeps pace with increases in accommodation costs. If an average student in Auckland had that, they would be entitled to $125 per week.”

“We think it’s time for decent, universal accommodation support so that every responsible student has a shot at tertiary education.”

“We want Government help to remove one of the largest barriers that stands in the way of real equality of opportunity; the unaffordable cost of housing.”

 “I hope we can work with all parties to get a better deal for students in this important area. I think everyone can agree that opportunity for all is key to unlocking New Zealand’s economic and social potential,” he says.

McCourt, 22, is a history graduate from Victoria University where he served as the local student union president in 2013. He was elected in early February and will serve a one year term.

About NZUSA: NZUSA is the national body that represents students’ associations and students at universities, polytechnics, wānanga and in trades training.

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A Fresh Start

Kia ora and welcome to my blog!

 Here you'll find all the latest news from the presidential desk on the issues that matter to students.

I'll try to regularly update it and include fun and interesting content to empower, challenge and entertain students and our allies.

Occasionally my opinion pieces will also make it to other publications online and in print.

This blog, like my election as the new national student president, hopefully represents a fresh start for NZUSA and the New Zealand student movement.

I hope you can join me and our movement as we rebuild our national student voice. I'm really excited to get started (the video above is a reflection of my feelings!).

 

Let's get cracking,

Rory

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Students' Call on Minister to be truthful in his calculations

22 October 2014
Press Release: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association

Students are calling on the Minister of Tertiary Education, Steven Joyce, to go back to class and check his maths after he suggested that the government subsidises 80% of tuition costs.

Sonya Clark, the President of Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association, says that comments made yesterday by the Minister for Tertiary Education, Steven Joyce, on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report program are “simply not true”.

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University of Auckland votes for fee hikes, yet again

Monday 20 October
Press Release: Auckland University Students’ Association (AUSA)

“The decision today marks a decade of fee hikes and poor decision making on behalf of the University of Auckland,” said Cate Bell, President of the Auckland University Students’ Association (AUSA). Her sentiment was echoed by the hundreds of Auckland students who protested throughout the day, calling on the government and the University's Vice-Chancellor to pay attention to concerns about pricing students out of tertiary study.

“We have seen a declining roll in five out of the eight universities in New Zealand last year as increasing cost keeps students away from study. What has been exposed is that demand for education isn't exhaustive and fantastical levels of debt are a deterrent for students participating in higher education,” says Bell.

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The voice of New Zealand's 400,000 students.

The New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations exists to advance the political, social and economic interests of tertiary students whatever they study and wherever they live. NZUSA is a membership body of local students' associatons. We believe in opportunity for all.

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