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 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.
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)
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.