Students’ associations union calls Government 'dishonest' over allowance inaction

May 22, 2019

Students’ associations union calls Government 'dishonest' over allowance inaction

James Ranstead (left) meets with education minister Chris Hipkins to discuss postgraduate allowances. Photo: Supplied.

Postgraduate student allowances will not be restored in this term of Government despite being a campaign promise for all three coalition parties.

James Ranstead, the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations president, said the Government had lost focus on listening to the needs of students.

“Whilst fees free and the student allowance increase is a result of listening to students, we have really felt a loosening of interest in our views,” he said.

Students rallied at Parliament last month to present a petition with more than 5000 signatures demanding that the Government restore the allowance to postgraduate students.

Education minister Chris Hipkins would not respond to questions for this story but told Newshub that restoring postgraduate allowance was a “long term aspiration” and would not happen in this term of Government.

Mr Ranstead said there is “a level of dishonesty” in not fulfilling a promise to New Zealand’s 30,000 postgraduate students.

“It slaps a level of unfairness in the face of many of our students,” he said.

“For example, if a student does a five-year law degree, they are eligible for allowance throughout. But if they do a three-year undergrad degree and a two-year masters, for the final two years of study they are ineligible for allowance."

Isabelle Sin, a senior fellow at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, said research had shown no evidence of an enrolment decrease for postgraduate programs.

“Students were able to borrow marginally the same amount as they would’ve received from allowances.

“If students can afford to live today, they may not worry about taking out a loan, and just pay the cost in the future,” she said.

However, Mr Ranstead said that the amount of student debt is a concern.

“There are so many different pressures facing young people. We are really passionate about reducing the amount of debt that students have when they leave tertiary study,” he said.

Ms Sin agrees increasing student debt is problematic.

“We do expect people who go to university have greater earnings in the future, but if you look at some of the calculations for how long it takes the average student to pay back their loans, which is quite often over $20,000 for a bachelor’s graduate, they can be paying it off for a long time,” she said.

“You don’t want student debt to hang over you your whole life.”

Jaimee Poole, a 24-year-old postgraduate student at AUT who would have been eligible for a student allowance, said she has had to take on extra debt.

“It means I take out a living costs loan, so I have more debt, and it means I can’t focus fully on my study,” she said.

“I have to do 20 hours of work on the side to help pay bills.

"People think that postgraduate studies are a selfish decision when the whole purpose of postgraduate study is to do further research and contribute to a wider base of academic knowledge.”

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick, who received the petition, said she would like to see allowance restored but only had so much influence as a junior member of Parliament.

“The aim of the petition is to drum up awareness to push the focus of senior ministers to make this more of a priority.

“I know [Chris Hipkins] is committed to enabling more postgraduate students to undertake study, but you have to remember we are only in year two of a three-year term.”

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