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A survey of New Zealand postgraduate students has found that 40% are thinking of giving up studying because their eligibility for the student allowance is being stripped away next year.
The survey was carried out by Amanda Thomas (25) and Bella Duncan (23), both doctoral students at Victoria University in Wellington.
Ms Thomas is doing her PhD in geography, while Ms Duncan is studying geology at the Antarctic Research Centre.
The results showed the Government's decision to cut allowances for postgraduate students would make it harder for students to get by, Ms Thomas said.
"This survey shows that not only is our ability to keep our talented young people in New Zealand under threat, but that those that are staying are facing huge financial stress," she said. The survey also found that one in five respondents were looking at studying overseas because of the changes.
Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce questioned the results of the survey, saying that its online nature meant it was "self-selecting".
Mr Joyce accepted the change would be "annoying" for students who had their entitlement cut, but believed it would cause very few to quit their studies.
"We need to realise ...
[these students] are going to be on average very quickly earning up to 70% more than someone who doesn't go to university and get a degree.
"I think it is only fair, particularly given the big blowout we have had in student allowances, that they be asked to borrow from the student loan scheme," he said.
Otago University Students' Association (OUSA) president-elect Francisco Hernandez said the survey results matched what he had heard from University of Otago students.
"I haven't had time to read the report in detail yet, but the conclusions are consistent with what we've heard from our postgraduate students.
"The changes to the postgraduate allowance are acting as a deterrent for students to pursue higher education," he said.
Ms Thomas said that 202 students took part in the online survey and that she sought respondents by contacting students' associations and other student groups around New Zealand. She carried out the survey because she felt there was a lack of discussion about the issue.
"Our leaders seem to have stuck their heads in the sand about the consequences, and that's why we undertook our own grassroots survey under the name of Keep Our Talent."