Postgrads need to borrow extra $4610 a year

The Government has again been criticised for cutting student allowances after figures released to the Otago Daily Times show those affected will have to take on an average of $4610 in extra debt to get by this year.

Figures released under the Official Information Act by the Ministry of Education estimated that because of the changes, an extra 5140 students would borrow money through the student loan scheme for living costs - or be more reliant on borrowing than before.

The affected students would be faced with having to borrow on average an extra $4610.89 this year, on top of the amount they borrowed to pay for their tuition. All up the changes are expected to add an extra $23.7 million on to the national student debt this year and save the Government $29.2 million.

This comes as changes to student allowance eligibility announced by the Government in last year's Budget came into force. The changes mean postgraduate students can no longer receive the allowance and there is no option to apply for exemptions allowing students to receive allowances beyond the 200-weeks.

Labour deputy leader and tertiary spokesman Grant Robertson said the extra amount students would have to borrow was a significant impost.

''That will act as a disincentive for a number of them to carry through with their studies,'' he said.

He also said the $5.5 million difference between the amount the Government was saving and the extra amount borrowed showed those affected were being forced to get by on less - going against what Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce had previously said.

''One of the things that Mr Joyce has not been willing to acknowledge is that people will be worse off financially,'' he said.

Mr Joyce said that prior to the changes it made this year, Government spending on student allowances had increased to an ''unsustainable level'', in one of the ''many spiralling costs we have inherited from the last Labour Government''.

As a consequence, the Government sought to ''focus student allowances more on students who are from low-income families and the early years of study'', he said.

People who finished postgraduate study were likely to earn ''much more'' than those who did not have a tertiary education, he said.

Mr Robertson said the Government's argument that cuts were necessary and that postgraduate students could afford to borrow more did not tread water.

''I think Steven Joyce has got to stop seeing education as a cost to cut and start seeing it as an investment in our future.''

Otago University Students' Association president Francisco Hernandez said $4610.89 was a significant amount for students.

He said the changes sent students a message. It mean that the Government ''doesn't want students to be studying [at a] postgraduate [level]'', Mr Hernandez said yesterday.

- vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz