Roasting for minister over allowance

Pete Hodgson
Pete Hodgson
Tertiary Education Minister Pete Hodgson got a roasting from university student leaders across the country following his speech at the New Zealand Union of Students Associations conference at Otago Polytechnic yesterday.

Mr Hodgson's speech, in essence, said student life was improving - particularly with regard to finances - but more work needed to be done.

He observed that the median repayment time for those who finished study in 1999 and remained in New Zealand was eight years, but that had fallen to four years for 2005 leavers.

"It is the one statistic that measures the impact of government policy at the level of an individual student," he said.

"This Government has controlled fees, removed interest on loans and made student allowances more readily available.

The combined influence of these measures, especially the interest-free policy, is now having its desired effect."

Student leaders waited with bated breath to hear his announcement about universal student allowances, but were disappointed when he announced it would not be introduced in the forthcoming year.

He said Labour wished to make progress on "moving towards, but not directly to, a universal student allowance".

Progress towards universality had been steady during the past five budgets.

Parental thresholds had been lifted by more than 50% and the age at which those thresholds ceased to apply was to be lowered next year to 24, he said.

"Just over half of all students who would be eligible for a full allowance under universality will be receiving one from January.

"Over the next three years, we wish to make further progress just as we have in the past five."

New Zealand Union of Students Associations co-president Liz Hawes said students were disappointed in Mr Hodgson's offerings. They wanted universal allowances now.

"The minister recognises that. He is sympathetic to the principle of supporting students better.

"The frustration is the cost of living. Rent alone is $142 per week on average. No student allowance will cover that."

Otago University Students Association president Simon Wilson acknowledged interest-free loans had been "brilliant" for students but he too was disappointed there had been no announcement on universal allowances.

Otago Polytechnic Students Association executive member Bradley Higgins said there was too much talk about the political history surrounding tertiary education and not enough talk about the future.

"We asked questions but he beat about the bush and avoided the issues. It was very disappointing," Mr Higgins said.


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