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May 4, 2009 | by  | in News |
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Students offered gap year in the military

New Zealand university students may be offered a military gap year: the opportunity to receive Army, Navy, or Air Force training for a year, in addition to compensation to help pay for their education, without committing to subsequent military service.

The proposal is designed to assist in boosting the NZDF’s reserves to 20,000 over five years, from its current pool of 9339 regular personnel and 2181 reservists.

The study will answer questions about the program’s details, like the exact nature of payment and the service structure. But a similar gap year program has been implemented in Australia.

The gap year proposal drew criticism from Tertiary Education Union national secretary Sharn Riggs. Ms. Riggs saw the program as further extending the program of inequitable access to tertiary education.

“The two activities [military service and tertiary eduation] are for entirely different purposes,” said Ms. Riggs. “The real issue is the funding system for our universities and tuition payments. Why use an incentive rather than universalising it?”

Ms. Riggs also expressed concerns about the usefulness of enlisting NZDF volunteers for a single year.

“I suspect they haven’t given that aspect of the proposal a huge amount of thought,” she said. “I think it’s easy to say, ‘send them [university students] off to the territorials for a year’ without considering the ramifications.”

The National party’s defence platform during the 2008 election committed the party to largely generalised goals, like, “[ensuring] the Defence Force can build security within the South Pacific,” as opposed to any specific policies. However, the policy did specify the need to “focus on addressing recruitment and retention issues,” and these commitments produced the goal of upsizing the reserve forces.

VUWSA President Jasmine Freemantle said that, while VUWSA generally supports measures that keep student fees low, there had been no consultation on the gap year proposal by the VUWSA exec by press time so there was no explicit policy on the issue as yet.

Sophia Blair, co-president of the New Zealand Union of Students Association, thought it was positive that the government was looking at the issue of tertiary education funding, but that it was a misstep to tackle the problem with compartmentalised solutions instead of fundamental reform.

“If you really wanted to stop the inequities, you would redo the entire loan scheme,” Ms Blair said. “And a large proportion of students are mature, part-time, or working students. It won’t be a worthwhile scheme to students who have commitments like these, so it’s going to be slightly unfair in that aspect.”

The details of the proposal are subject to the conclusions of the Defence Department’s White Paper review, to be conducted this year. Associate Defence Minister Heather Roy is leading the companion review focusing on the gap year proposal and role of the New Zealand Defence Force in youth programmes.

The Australian scheme pays NZ $50,000 and places 1000 participants in a 12-month training program, from which they can withdraw at any time. There is no commitment to continue service beyond the initial year. This is a separate program from typical enlistee training, which can take up to 11 weeks for Recruit training and 18 months for Officer training.

The NZDF already offers university scholarships, such as the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s scholarship program. The main difference between this program and the proposed Gap Year is that the RNZAF scholarship is a suspensory loan that commits the student to service in the RNZAF post-graduation. After a period of service equal to the number of years spent studying, plus one, the loan—which covers tuition, accommodation, textbook and up to NZ $7 385 living expenses—is paid off.

The White Paper review is scheduled to be released in March next year.

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  1. 123 says:

    “Assistant Defence Minister Heather Joy is leading the companion review focusing on the gap year proposal and role of the New Zealand Defence Force in youth programmes.”

    I suspect you mean Associate Defence Minister Heather Roy?

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