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Soon, the streets of Dunedin will come alive as thousands of students arrive in the city to start their academic year.
Already, students have been seen shifting their belongings from one flat to another as they change accommodation for the year.
A flood of first-year students from out of Dunedin will walk along George St, diving into cafes and restaurants, experiencing their first taste of freedom.
Retailers will welcome the influx. Although Dunedin has had a successful cruise ship season, the students bring a new wave of cash to the town as they return to buying the basics for their life in the city.
There has been a long tradition by the Otago Daily Times of trying to educate new arrivals to walk on the left as they stroll along Dunedin streets. Whether that missive will have any effect this year depends on how many students any particular group has at any time. Student life in Dunedin has a particular attraction around New Zealand. The University of Otago and the Otago Polytechnic are close to the centre of town and they are surrounded by residential accommodation, much of it belonging to student landlords.
Students are expected to become part of the local society. And most do. They join sports and culture clubs, boosting numbers of all sorts of teams, choirs, theatre casts and the temporary workforce in Dunedin hospitality outlets.
The arrival of the students brings a vibrancy to the city, something to be celebrated and enjoyed as the hi-jinks begin. Lectures do not start until February 27 but this gives time for some of the arrivals to come to terms with the challenges of studying while racking up student debt.
It is the debt which causes many people to pause and think about their study options. Medical science students face a long hard slog of study to graduate and without some sort of family help, their debt can be overwhelming.
Shorter degrees still create debt and even smaller amounts can prove a challenge for young people first entering the workforce. The important point to remember is, of course, no study is free. At every stage, taxpayers already contribute significantly to the cost of education — and rightly so. But the question remains why those on the minimum wage should contribute any more to the study costs of someone likely to end up on several times their hourly rate when they graduate. As Orientation events begin, the Otago campuses will be visited by politicians committing extra cash help to students as part of election-year pledges. Asking how those promises will be funded will be a great way to start a debate about the future of education.
New Zealand is crying out for skilled labour to build the houses needed in Auckland. Ten thousand New Zealanders are building trade apprentices and the industry is calling for another 10,000 to become involved in trades training. All education is good, continuing education is to be encouraged and no-one should stop learning as they go through life — although not all of it needs to be carried out in lecture theatres.
Not everyone is suited for a life of study at a university and the shortage of skilled labour and apprentices will be exacerbated unless significant changes can be made at secondary school level.
In the past, trades training was given only to school pupils not deemed bright enough to study languages or the likes of physics and chemistry. Those days are thankfully behind us but questions remain about how best to encourage bright young New Zealanders into other types of study, without having the burden of too much debt.
This city is overwhelmingly welcoming to students, even tolerating some of the bad behaviour which will eventually emerge as street parties get out of control and the police, fire and ambulance staff come under attack.
However, it is time to get serious about how the country trains, rather than imports, its workforce.