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July 14, 2008 | by  | in News |
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Students protest for money, told “Get real”

Students hit Auckland’s Queen St ahead of last weekend’s New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) conference to protest against increasing levels of student debt, urging the government to introduce a universal living allowance before the general election later this year.

The 250-strong crowd, including four furry “debt monsters,” chanted slogans such as “Do a degree and what do you get? Debt, debt, debt” and “Bring Back Bucks,” as they made their way to Aotea Square, where NZUSA Co- President Paul Falloon addressed the group.

“Student debt isn’t just a problem for students, it’s a problem for all New Zealanders,” Falloon declared.

Falloon announced that the protest marked the launch of NZUSA’s new “Kiwi Bankrupt” campaign, which included sending mock “anti-debt” bankcards to politicians and policy-makers.
NZUSA called for the current system of means-testing, whereby students under 24 are granted or denied an allowanced based on the amount the individual’s parents earn, to be replaced by a universal allowance, arguing that it would have positive effects on the country’s economy.

“Research has shown that debt levels are putting students off starting families, as well as negatively effecting home ownership rates, business start-up and retirement savings,” he said.

“Add to that the direct link between this debt to New Zealand’s increasing brain drain, and you see how the loan scheme is bankrupting our society.”

Since its introduction in 1992, more than 450,000 of the New Zealand population currently have a debt from the student loan scheme. According to NZUSA, the total student debt grows at a rate of about $1 billion each year, despite more than 90 per cent of students taking on employment or loans and credit card debt while they study.

Falloon blamed a lack of access to allowances and high tuition fees for driving students into debt.

In response to the protest, Education Forum policy advisor Norman LaRocque said that there was no justification for the introduction of a universal living allowance, “especially given that the government already spends nearly $14,000 per student per year on tertiary education.”

“The New Zealand policy of an incomecontingent student loan scheme complemented by an income-targeted student allowance scheme is exactly in line with the recommendations of a recent OECD report on tertiary education,” he said.

“It is time student unions got real.”

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