Higher Education – a Privilege of the Rich and the Young?

By   /   May 16, 2016  /   14 Comments

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Tertiary education becomes less accessible each year, with fee increases, reduced student allowance availability, increases in loan repayments, lowering of the income threshold for repayments and unrealistic means testing.

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Tertiary education becomes less accessible each year, with fee increases, reduced student allowance availability, increases in loan repayments, lowering of the income threshold for repayments and unrealistic means testing.

 

I’m nearing the end of a three-year BA. I got my first ‘overdue loan repayment’ bill after only one semester. I’m expected to be paying off my loan while studying because I’m earning too much. The threshold is around $365 a week gross, regardless of whether you are 18 years old and flatting, or a single parent supporting children and paying high Auckland rents. Currently you can only get an allowance for living costs for four years of undergraduate study, so the one-year post-graduate diploma I want to do after my BA isn’t covered – never mind a Masters or Ph.D.

 

When I first enrolled for a Bachelor degree in 2013, Work and Income NZ told me they couldn’t pay me a benefit while I studied. After a lot of fuss, and pointing out that a single parent couldn’t survive on a Studylink Student Allowance (which is a challenge for a young person renting a tiny room), they granted it. Three times over the last two-and-a-half years they’ve told me out of the blue that someone made a mistake and I’m not entitled to a benefit while studying, meaning I couldn’t afford to continue to study, having wasted the last X number of months/years. Each time they’ve backed off, after a showdown involving tears or frustration and the mention of advocacy organisations/my lawyer (a bluff because I don’t have one). But it makes me wonder whether other, less pig-headed single parents out there wanting to improve their education and employability have given up in despair. It’s easy to see how WINZ’s intimidation tactics would convince people they’re scum and a drain on society. You screwed up and had a kid before you got an education, so now it’s too late.

 

Also slashed from Auckland University recently were large numbers of admin staff and courses, especially in the Arts, because the university puts profit before people, commerce before knowledge. It’s criminally negligent to leave the state of our education system in the hands of the private sector. If we are at all worried about the ‘brain drain’ – which doesn’t merit much mention these days in an increasingly globalised economy – then why the heavy dependency on high fee-paying international students, who have little or no stake in our society?

 

How can educating yourself be a drain on society? The best investment a country can make is in educating its population, young and old. New Zealand could be a world leader in so many fields if we took this approach. Instead, those that do manage to scrape their way to a qualification often leave for better opportunities overseas.

 

The combination of unwritten WINZ policy and government rhetoric fosters the beneficiary bashing that’s been prevalent since the early 1990s along with the view that government-funded education is an expensive burden on the tax payer. This rot began to set in with the ‘Rogernomics’ policies of the 1984 Labour government, which condemned NZ to an economic dark age from which we show no signs of recovering if the ‘user pays’ mentality continues to prevail.

 

Considering the past wrongs Labour needs to right, its new policy doesn’t show enough balls (see a critical analysis of this published a few months ago). Labour have announced three years of free tertiary education… but not until 2025… and only for students who have had ‘no previous tertiary education’. Hard luck if you’ve already paid for all or part of your first three years. Admirably though, there is no age limit. Whether they will extend student allowances past undergraduate level isn’t mentioned in their fact sheet, which suggests no change there. To offer the first three-to-four years for free then cut everything off completely, would still mean only rich people can become doctors and lawyers (or people reckless enough to get themselves into six digits of debt), further enhancing the economic gap and fostering a class system that New Zealand used to pride itself on not having.

 

Another foreseeable problem is that, if a Labour government were to stagger the introduction of free fees (currently projected over six years from 2019-2025), there would be a massive drop in enrolments leading up to it, with people postponing their studies for a year or two until it’s free. Meanwhile the universities lose a lot of money. There’s no reason not to implement it quite quickly – no new infrastructure is required – in fact it would be more cost effective to do this. If Labour are serious about fixing education, they need to break some eggs, stop trying to please everyone, and go back to the progressive tax rates we had before the Rogernomes made us the unfortunate guinea pig of the global neoliberal agenda.

 

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About the author

Sian Robertson

Contributor

Siân Robertson is a student of linguistics and languages at Auckland University and an organiser for the NZ Palestine Solidarity Network. An activist globally and locally, she has been actively involved in the Mana Movement. She was deputy editor of the carbuyers' Dog & Lemon Guide for several years. She is also an enthusiastic amateur footballer and a mother.

14 Comments

  1. WILD KATIPO says:

    Yes,… when that naughty Roger Rodgered the system we all got wet with the trickle down effect.

    Now I’m not taking the piss , – but you are totally correct in saying that Roger did take the piss. Unfortunately it was all over the likes of you and me.

    And so did all his mates in Act, National and Labour. And they are STILL pissing. In fact , I reckon these neo liberals have so much piss they must have a really , really bad bladder infection.

    Or maybe a combined bladder/ gut problem because they certainly are a shall we say ,… ‘ windy ‘ bunch as well. Irritable bowel problem some might say.

    Yes, I agree… what these sick people need is a good healthy dose of Social Democracy and a Keynesian based economic system. That’d stop all the pissing and the farting, – and save on catheter bags. Surely saving in that area of govt health expenditure would be something they would all readily agree on – and particularly regards to their , er … rather ‘ unique problem ‘s ‘…

  2. Wensleydale says:

    First of all, if you’re not pumping bucket-loads of cash into our “Rock Star” economy (like international students), you’re virtually a non-entity.

    Second, governments don’t particularly want an educated populace capable of critical thought, intelligent debate or joining the dots in regard to the many and varied ways they’re being shafted by their elected officials. When educated, people tend to ask awkward questions and have an annoying habit of unearthing inconvenient facts — facts which are frequently embarrassing to Ministers of the Crown when it’s revealed they’re pathological liars who couldn’t sit the right way on a toilet seat, let alone give a straight answer to a simple question. One Nicky Hager is one too many for John Key and friends; God forbid there be an entire legion of them.

    Of course, some of us are of the view that, given the venal nature of our current administration, an enlightened and informed populace would be exceedingly desirable. Obviously we’re barking mad and probably communists and terrorists too.

  3. Andrew says:

    If we are to educate for the good of the country we should be requiring you to forget your BA and become a truck driver, because we have an over supply of BAs and a shortage of truck drivers.

    • Sam Sam says:

      With ideas like that it’s no wonder you are a dummy.

      Let’s not confuse you any more with talk of debt and the National Party

    • In Vino says:

      And the system you support underpays those truck drivers (riches must be given to lazy share-holders and overpaid CEOs); makes them work ridiculous, dangerous hours; and you have the cheek to lament a shortage.
      We would be much better off with a shortage of lazy shareholders and a majority of well-paid truck drivers.

    • aWanderer says:

      Crap advice. With driverless vehicles just around the corner those truck drivers will all be looking for work.

      That BA might help with finding a new job although you’re probably better off with something a bit more STEM related.

    • richarquis says:

      Exactly how stupid are you, Andrew? What do you think is the common thread that links degrees ranging from architecture, law, medicine, science, economics, arts, engineering, psychology, marketing, IT, geography, food sciences, and whatever else? It’s the arts.

      Where would the advertising and marketing industry be without people who can draw and write copy? Where would the legal industry be without people who can parse text? How would doctors operate hi-tech equipment if the instruction manuals weren’t written by people who knew how to write the instructions clearly? How would an engineer be able to translate his instructions to the building team without accurate use of language? How would scientists publish their research? How would your precious National government manage to find another new way to paraphrase the same old bullshit?

      One thing we can be sure of though, is that the lack of intelligent analysis wouldn’t affect your posts one bit. Perhaps you could get one of those jobs driving a lorry, dumping loads of manure on everybody’s front lawns, just in case they didn’t read your last contribution.

  4. Susan St John says:

    Great to see these issues being raised. Mothers at university are a huge rarity now. What a waste of the years of opportunity they have with young children to train and educate themselves. My generation had that option. If on an allowance or benefit she is also denied the full working for families for her child because she is deemed not to be doing ‘paid’ work. Missing out on the IWTC of $72.50 a week. This does not happen in Australia- our WFF policy is badly frayed– support FWFF#
    https://www.facebook.com/FixWorkingForFamilies/

  5. Doubting Thomas says:

    When Phil Goff was Labour Leader, even though he is still a Rodgergnome, he described the rort of the politicians who went through funded Tertiary education, but they ‘pulled the ladder up after them’

    I’m sure he was trying to appeal to the lost left of Labour, but never a truer word spoken in Labour lies, and Tory trickery.

    User-pays education, ‘you value it when you have to pay for it!’

    Almost has the same validity as ‘trickle-down-economics’, namely utter gob-shite.

  6. Bg says:

    Poor poor you. I see no mention of the guy working 14 hours a day paying taxes so ‘you can ‘self actualize ‘ yourself.

    All I hear is gimme more!

    • WILD KATIPO says:

      No but what we are hearing a lot of these days is about the working poor …

      And with the Double Dipper Bill English famously saying :

      ” We should be glad we have a low wage economy as that encourages foreign investment ”…

      Funny that , … so now those same victims of his ideology who are the working poor are now having to live under bridges, in tents , and in garages …whole family’s of them !!!

      And lets get this straight – that means both parents are working and still living under a bloody bridge WITH their young children.

      Is that you’re idea of the ‘rock star economy ‘ ?

      Is that you’re idea of Keys ” being on the cusp of a brighter future ”?

      You sound like a wanker mate.

      So lets see now , SHALL WE ?…. The Bank of America made a deal with Key that they would give 2.5 billion dollars if Key legislated a zero tax policy for foreign trusts … because that meant the Bank of America would do a roaring trade having those undetectable trust monies being filtered through their bank.

      Where do you think Key ( who has shares in the Bank of America ) got the loans to provide tax cuts for the rich and put us all into massive national debt in the process came from ?

      Not much of a thinker, are you mate.

      And now hes trying to pull the same stunt again – except English doesn’t like the feel of a rope around his neck so hes saying it should go into public funding instead.

      Cant work it out, can you… cant see that capital has been concentrated in the FIRE economy and deliberately so – and that one major plank of doing that was to CUT PUBLIC FUNDING – funding that was bloody well OURS to begin with.

      And that when we had a progressive tax scale from the 1940’s -1970’s there was not much wriggle room for corporate’s to avoid paying their fair share of the tax burden and they didn’t like that because it meant they couldn’t wield as much political power and clout – and had to pay taxes.

      So they lobbied behind a subversive called Roger Douglas in 1984 and his team to relocate ( read : ‘ STEAL ‘ ) the public wealth and assets and centralize wealth and power into their control…

      – AND THAT INCLUDED FREE TERTIARY EDUCATION – AS WELL AS HEALTH , AS WELL AS STATE HOUSING FOR LOW INCOME EARNERS, ALONG WITH WEAKENING TRADE UNIONS AND CUTTING FUNDING FOR HOSPITALS AND SOCIAL SERVICES. THINGS THAT WERE FORMERLY PAID FOR BY THE NZ TAXPAYER FOR THE TAXPAYER.

      You just don’t get it , do you.

      Or more to the point … you just don’t want to get it because either your’e just another far right wing fanatic with vested interests in the poverty industry or you’re just too damn bone lazy to get an education and open you’re bloody eyes to whats going on out there.

  7. Farmer Guy Farmer Guy says:

    It’s not that easy to make money out of the sharemarket, you need lots of money so you can be a majority shareholder/manager.