Student feels 'duped' by Govt

University of Otago postgraduate student Veronica Harwood-Stevenson (28) says it is unfair her...
University of Otago postgraduate student Veronica Harwood-Stevenson (28) says it is unfair her student allowance was taken away partway through her diploma. Photo by Craig Baxter.
A University of Otago student says she feels ''duped'' after a Government change meant her student allowance was taken away halfway through her postgraduate study.

Veronica Harwood-Stevenson (28), who is taking the two-year postgraduate diploma in natural history, film-making and communication, said she would probably have chosen to stay in her job in the film industry in Wellington if she had known her allowance would be stopped this year.

This comes as changes to student allowance eligibility announced by the Government in last year's Budget come into force this year. The changes mean postgraduate students can no longer receive the allowance and there is no option to apply for exemptions allowing them to receive it beyond the 200-week cut-off rule.

Ms Harwood-Stevenson felt people such as her who signed up for study before the changes were made should still be able to get the allowance.

''I made the decision to return to study based on the status quo at the time and then it was changed from under my feet.''

The change left her feeling ''duped'' by the Government and meant she would be left with an extra $10,000 on her student loan.

She also faced having to get by on $175 a week instead of the $244 she was getting last year.

''That might not seem like a lot to ... [Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce]; he would probably drop that on a bottle of wine, but that is the majority of someone's rent.''

As a result, she had given up on a plan to use her savings to buy a house and was instead living with her mother. Even on $244 a week, she had been forced to put off doctor visits so she could buy course materials.

Ms Harwood-Stevenson said that to be fair, Mr Joyce should change his mind and give back the allowance to people partway through postgraduate study.

Labour tertiary education spokesman Grant Robertson also called on Mr Joyce to ''do the right thing'' for people in Ms Harwood-Stevenson's situation.

''If Steven Joyce is determined to go ahead with [allowance changes] ... he needs to urgently act to allow those students partway through their postgraduate study to get allowances.''

When asked if he would consider making the change, Mr Joyce said postgraduate students earned more when they finished studying and it was ''hardly fair'' to ask taxpayers to keep ''picking up ... the tab'' for their allowances.

''The Labour Party are starting 2013 where they left off in 2012 - trying to have their cake and eat it too. They pretend they would be as fiscally responsible as the Government, but then oppose every single spending change the Government makes,'' Mr Joyce said.

Otago University Students' Association president Francisco Hernandez called on the Government to reverse all the changes it had made to student allowances.

''Student associations have told the Government the whole time that situations like Veronica's would come up.

''Although students can access the living cost scheme, many students are finding that they are unable to borrow the same amount as they were receiving via the student allowance scheme,'' he said.

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