The New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) says that financial support is failing to meet the rising costs of being a student, amid tertiary enrolments reaching its lowest point in more than a decade.
Ministry of Education figures show that there were 353,000 enrolments in 2016, down from 423,000 in 2009. While part of this decline was down to demographic changes in the number of school leavers, this was not the only reason, argues National President Jonathan Gee.
One of the biggest drops has been in the over 40 age group, from 6.7% in 2008 to 3.6% in 2016.
‘By restricting student allowances for those over 40, the Government has sent a clear signal that to these prospective students that they don’t want to support their living costs while they seek to adapt to the ever-changing future of work.’
The decline in enrolments from those in the 20-24 age group also suggests that cost is a factor.
‘A number of students have opted to take ‘gap years’ halfway through their studies, as they choose to earn rather than learn to keep up with the rising cost of living. They’re also opting for gap years to reassess the suitability of their course, suggesting that we need better careers education to give students a clearer picture of their tertiary journey.’
While Gee acknowledges that most of the decline has occurred in low-level courses, he questions why these students have not opted to stay in tertiary education at higher levels.
‘Increasing tertiary education quality is important, but making it accessible to all is equally vital. There are tens of thousands of young people not in education, employment or training who we need to reach.’
New Zealand sits at around the OECD average (42%) when it comes 25-34 year olds holding a tertiary qualification (40%). Yet countries which we typically compare ourselves to have much higher proportions, such as Australia (49%), the United Kingdom (50%) and Canada (59%). Gee says this shows that we can do better when it comes to tertiary education participation.
‘People around the world have said that the best anti-poverty programme is education. Tertiary education results in more stable work, better health over time, reduced incarceration rates and higher employment. Greater tertiary education participation is ultimately good for New Zealand. We can do better.’