The New Zealand University Students’ Association (NZUSA) appeared before Parliament’s Regulations Review Select Committee last Wednesday, to argue that changes to student allowance regulations have breached human rights.
The changes in question invoked the Bill of Rights on the grounds of “discrimination” to remove key criteria for eligibility to the Independent Circumstances Allowance (ICA) for working and married students. But NZUSA co-president Joey Randall argues that the alternative – means-testing students based on their parents’ income until the age of 25 – is just as discriminatory.
“It’s hypocritical to justify getting rid of one form of discrimination while entrenching another,” he says. “Right now the student allowance scheme says that all students are dependent on their parents until they turn 25. We know this is not the case as our research shows that only 28 per cent of students receive any financial support from their parents.”
A spokesperson for Minister of Education Michael Cullen says that many countries are supporting the idea that parents should accept some degree of responsibility for their children’s’ tertiary education.
According to the spokesperson, the age is set at 25 due to “constraints” on Government funding. “Lowering the age for parental income testing or abolishing it altogether would be costly, and draw resources away from other priority areas for the government, such as the interest-free student loan policy.”
The meeting was adjourned in order to investigate human rights claim made by the NZUSA, which Mr Randall says is a “complicating factor”.
Despite the fact the meeting was adjourned, the NZUSA is pleased with the progress says Randall. “What we were looking for is just basically [getting] them to in some way agree with us that the current situation is discriminatory.”