Student hardship "the real issue"

The successful launch of Child Poverty Action Group’s (CPAG) latest report,Laybying our Future: The state of student hardship in New Zealand saw the venue at the Auckland Business school filled to capacity. The event featured an excellent panel discussion from Labour’s Jenny Salesa, Green’s Gareth Hughes, Linsey Higgens from NZUSA and former student Sian Robertson. 

The very real issue of increasing student hardship resonates with many, and among obvious influences is the reduction in student support. Students are increasingly expected to borrow for living costs, as fewer are receiving the full Student Allowance since the parental income caps were frozen in 2012. The rapidly increasing costs of living mean students are trying to get by on less and less.

It is disappointing however to see that some media outlets have framed their presentation of CPAG’s report around interest on student loans.

The report did not suggest re-introducing interest on existing loans but notes that the truth is zero interest loans have enabled the Government to push greater debt onto students. The size of debt for many students is crippling, even if interest-free. CPAG had hoped to open the space for a rational conversation for future shifting of the balance of the costs away from students and reducing their need to borrow.

Just citing opposite views rather than considering the reasoning behind the actual recommendation is unhelpful and divisive. The wider conversation on the overall review of student financing, including loans and interest, cannot be done justice in a sound bite. The point of the report, which has been missed, is to highlight the necessity for policy to take better care of students who will be responsible for New Zealand’s economic future.

Max Lin, author of the report and a student himself made the following statement yesterday:

"They [media reporters] seem disappointed that we didn't focus more on fee-free tertiary education, but the whole idea is that fees and income support are distinct issues. Once again the issue of student hardship - the ability to survive week to week and complete their degrees and complete them well - has been "crowded out" by the political and media emphasis on debt, which was exactly what we didn't want. This type of coverage detracts from the spirit of the story and is a massive injustice to all the students living in poverty who deserved to have their voices heard.

"The 'problem' with interest-free student loans is that it does not actually address the core problem of immediate hardship. The recommendation was framed as a hypothetical - if there were a genuine trade-off - to highlight these two distinct issues. The scheme also has other unintended consequences, such as allowing the Government to put more of the cost of study on to students - partially because it is considered an asset on the Government's books. The recommendation was strongly qualified."

It is CPAG’s hope that the public and other media can focus on what is most important, and that is ensuring that we encourage our young into tertiary education, and make it possible for them to achieve it without enduring significant hardship, and that poverty among children be lifted in order for all children to have the opportunity and options for reaching their full academic potential as they come out of secondary education.

Max Lin’s full statement can be read here.