On Thursday afternoon, I received word of an extremely short-sighted decision by the Minister for Tertiary Education, Steven Joyce. Mr Joyce, as a member of a Government obssessed with cost-cutting even in areas of expenditure, has made a decision that the student allowance will be stopped for postgraduate students.
The student allowance is administered by Studylink, an agency under the Ministry of Social Development umbrella. The student allowance, which is quite often the only income that is available for postgraduate students who aside from studying for their qualifications might only have time for a few hours a week of tutoring in labs for first-third students. In the course of one week, a student doing ten hours of tutoring might be paid $15/hr, which would add up to $150/pw. This does not include the time that they spent writing the tutorials/labs, or the time that they spent marking assignments. It certainly does not recognise the hours that they spent doing their own study.
During 2011 whilst studying at Vision College, I was on the student allowance, which was only $180 per week. I was lucky in that my parents decided to waive my board payments. Still, I had to dig into savings to fund my weekly expenditure.
When a student is flatting, they will have rental costs to pay and many of them will not be living in their home towns which means turning to parents for assistance might be easier said than done. In post-earthquake Christchurch, where rental properties are at a minimum thanks to repairs or still bearing the scars of seismic violence, competition is fierce and rental rates are often beyond the reach of students. This also says nothing for daily/weekly living costs such as electricity/food/transport. Nor does it account for tertiary education fees to which are becoming unaffordable for many, or the cost of paying for text books and other study resources.
In addition to the above cuts, changes to the limits of borrowing the Equivalents Full Time Student (E.F.T.S.)can make are coming in. Another change is to the payment schedule for trainee pilots.
At a birthday party a few weeks ago, I met a pilot flying for an Air New Zealand link subsidiary. She said she estimated based on her current ability to pay back the debts she accumulated during her study that she would be 83 years old when it finally gets paid off.
By cutting student allowances for post-graduate students, Mr Joyce is in effect saying to them, that the Government does not value their input and the students are welcome to quit their studies. Many of them do not want to take out loans if they can possibly avoid it, because they become prone to being saddled in debt that they might not be able to pay back. As a student at the University of Canterbury in 2000-2006, I paid an estimated $22,000 over that time for an undergraduate study period of 3.5 years, and a postgraduate period of two years.
I do not want to think what I would have to pay to start an equivalent course of study today. Would I even bother trying?