This Wednesday, the total student loan debt owed by more than 470,000 New Zealanders reaches $9 billion. That’s on average, around $19,000 owed by every person with a loan. 40% of that $9 billion has been accrued through the living costs component – the money borrowed to live – rent, power, phone, food etc.
There is no doubt in my mind that the single greatest cause of more students having to borrow to live is the inadequate level of student allowances and entitlements. In 1992, when the student loan scheme was introduced, around 80% of tertiary students were eligible to get an allowance. Now, after plummeting, it has (thankfully) stalled at 29%.
While allowances go down, Fees go up. Even today, at the University Council meeting, there will be a vote to approve an application to the Tertiary Education Commission to increase fees in Humanities, Law and Architecture programmes by 10 per cent. This, in contradiction to a motion passed last year by the Council, demanding that the University persuade the Government to increase the level of funding for tertiary education. While this won’t immediately affect those who have already paid for their second trimester courses, you’ll feel it next year. The University will not reduce their fees. If anything, come 2008 they’ll be asking for even more from you.
Every time fees are raised, the University are literally passing the buck to students. According to the Ministry of Education, the average amount borrowed from the loan scheme in 1992 was $3,628. This figure had increased to $6,408 by 2006. A 76 per cent increase in the annual amount borrowed over the life of New Zealand’s student loan scheme indicates the degree to which the cost of public tertiary education is constantly being lumped onto students.
It is legislative begging, a white collar approach to force students to beg, just so they can get something to eat or a place to sleep.
Why do we tolerate this? As students, we don’t have much choice it seems: in most cases, the political will is not there when it comes to issues facing students. But the 2005 election showed what when parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles start to wonder “why does my child have to beg to survive?” I believe that the sentiment is still there in the wider New Zealand public. It’s a burden that doesn’t lift the moment you stop studying. Those debts will affect young professionals for years to come.
Not only will they be working to survive, they will also be working off the debt accumulated in trying to avoid death while studying. There will be some who may argue that students must bear some cost to tertiary education; does that mean that they have to borrow to survive while studying full time?
It’s rather obvious that the Government know what they are doing. If they were at all concerned, they would have increased the living costs upper limit in line with inflation. That would mean that students could borrow up around $215 a week. Why hasn’t this happened, I suspect is because it would only exacerbate the problem for students. The Government has however put itself in a position where the loans scheme is flawed in and of itself, but will not do anything about fixing it.
Living in Wellington is a struggle. With the Government and University’s lack of leadership, VUWSA has provided services for those who are struggling to make ends meet. We offer free bread, a foodbank service, advocacy with StudyLink; we pick up the pieces when ordinary students get screwed over.
So what can be done? First, turn up to the University Council Meeting today, 1pm at the University Council Chamber (level 2 of the Hunter Building) and make sure you make clear that there is opposition to the fee increase. Second, look out for the events on Debt Day this Wednesday. If you are on a student loan and using it to pay for your living costs, get in touch with your family, your mum, dad, grandparents, aunts and uncles; all your loved ones. Tell them that you are okay, things are alright, and that thanks to the Govern ment, you have to beg to live each week…isn’t that just great! Third, if you are struggling to make ends meet, come visit VUWSA and we can help out. At least someone’s helping students.