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May 21, 2012 | by  | in Opinion |
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Presidential Address

Last week I had the honour of attending all five of Victoria’s graduation ceremonies. It was such a pleasure to be able to attend these ceremonies and watch families and friends celebrate the success of their graduates. A huge congratulations to all the students who graduated, I hope you were able to take some time out to be able to celebrate with those close to you.

While last week marked a special occasion for many students, this week is unlikely to be as exciting or hopeful. This Thursday, the Government will be announcing their budget. In an attempt to bring the books back into surplus by 2015, the government is planning to present another ‘zero budget’ which is going to greatly impact on students and graduates.

In my President’s column a fortnight ago I highlighted what some of these changes are likely to be for students—a four year/200 week limit on student allowances, a four year freeze of the parental income threshold for eligibility of allowances and a 20 per cent increase in the compulsory student loan repayment rate.

While we cannot yet be sure exactly what changes the budget will hold, it is clear that the upcoming Budget will bring some of the most savage cuts to student support and access that we have seen over the last number of years.

These changes will not only lock able students out of tertiary education, but it will lock them out of Aoteroa.

The current support structures we have in place, while not universal, are vitally important for many students to be able to access tertiary education. By limiting the support that students can receive, it will also limit the types of students who will access tertiary education. We are already aware that students from low income families are more debt averse and therefore will be less likely to access tertiary study if government support is limited. This raises worrying equity concerns.

The path to sustainable growth is through investment in a knowledge economy. We need a system that will help all able students to succeed, not just those students whose parents are rich enough to afford it.

But not only will these changes lock able students out of accessing tertiary education, they will also lock them out of New Zealand. New Zealand has one of the harshest loan repayment schemes in the world. By increasing the compulsory repayment rate by 20 per cent, this system is about to get even harsher. In a country that is struggling to provide jobs for students and graduates, has limited postgraduate scholarships and low wages what incentive are recent graduates given to stay? Coupled with this upcoming change, for many that ever present pull to Australia will be even more harder to resist.

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that the Government is under pressure to try and balance the books. I understand that students who have used the student loan scheme have an obligation to pay back their loans and that many graduates aren’t paying off their loan debt as quickly as the Government would like. I understand that this current economic climate means that hard decisions have to be made. However, investment in tertiary education, including student support is one of the best ways to stimulate long-term economic growth. Students are the key to helping us emerge from this economy a brighter, smarter, stronger nation—the government should not be trying to disproportionately burden us financially, leaving us drowning in debt before we even properly begin our life journeys.

I’m angry and upset about the government’s proposed changes to student loans and allowances. If you too feel angry/distressed/fucked off then join me, VUWSA and other student groups on campus at a rally this Thursday, at 12pm in the Hunter Courtyard.

If we want our country to be successful, we need to invest in the tertiary sector and the students within in—not leave them all out to dry.

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