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Figures released by the Ministry of Social Development under the Official Information Act show that at the end of December last year 18,120 were on the ''unemployment benefit student hardship'', which certain students are entitled to if they are unable to find work.
The number was down from a peak of 19,296 in December 2011, but more than double the 7386 receiving the benefit at the same time in 2008.
Ministry of Social Development deputy chief executive Iona Holsted said the recession was to blame for the increase in the number of those on the benefit over the last four years.
Students in Dunedin were faring worse compared with four years ago, with 1538 on the benefit at the end of last year - more than two and a-half times as many as the 574 receiving it at the same time in 2008. The Dunedin figures did not take in to account students who left Dunedin and returned home over the summer.
Otago University Students' Association president Francisco Hernandez said the figures showed the recession was still making it difficult for students to find work.
''Students are finding it tough to find a job everywhere, but with Dunedin's economy based largely around the university and the students, it is likely that we'd see an increase in students looking for financial assistance as the semester time work dries up.''
A higher overall unemployment rate also meant there was more competition for jobs, Mr Hernandez said.
Otago students made ''reliable and flexible'' workers and he encouraged employers to give them a shot.
Depending on circumstances, students are entitled to between $136.64 - if single and living at home - and $293.58 - if a single parent.
To qualify, a student must have been receiving a student allowance during the year, be entitled to one in the coming year, or fit in with the ''additional hardship criteria''.