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June 4, 2013 | by  | in Opinion |
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Check Your (Student) Privilege, Yo

You may not believe it, dear student, but you are privileged. You probably don’t think so. You will go home to your scummy flat tonight, freeze your arse off while eating cold baked beans, and work on the assignments you have coming out your ears, and think, “Privileged? Poppycock!”

But you are. You see, in most other countries in the world, tertiary education is hard to get into, let alone completing a degree. New Zealand has one of the highest rates of tertiary-degree completion in the entire world. Roughly 14 per cent of the New Zealand population has a university Bachelor’s degree, or polytechnic equivalent (Nursing for example). Why is our system so good at getting people educated comparatively? Well, you are not going to like this, but it is due to the principle of user pays.

Changing our tertiary-education system was a two-Government project. Phil Goff as Minister of Education in the late 1980s began the moves to scrap the bursary system. Previously, only the best and the brightest New Zealanders went to university, and our universities were world-class because of it. Goff opened the universities up to anybody who wanted to give it a go. The flipside of this is that he began the process of introducing fees. In a sense, tertiary education was for anybody who wanted it, as long as you were willing to pay for it. Lockwood Smith, his National Party successor, broke a pre-election promise and increased the fees, beginning the process we know today with year-on-year fee increases. It isn’t all bad though.

Anybody could now go to university. The rate of those with a Bachelor’s degree or higher began to climb. Tertiary education is no longer the preserve of elites like it was 50 years ago. Where does the privilege fit in? Well, even if you have a BA in Theatre, you are signalling to employers in the labour market that you, for lack of a better phrase, are not a complete idiot. This gives you an advantage for the rest of your life: an increase in earnings over those who do not hold a degree. You receive a government payment of either $170 for living costs or $210 for Student Allowance while studying. You may receive additional support in the form of scholarships if you come from a low-income background, or are the first university student in your family. You may be eligible for an Accommodation Supplement.

The biggest privilege of all? Your loan for fees and living costs is interest-free if you stay here. In time, as your earnings theoretically increase due to pay increases, your loan will shrink rapidly, as no interest will be charged on it.

You are privileged. Deal with it, as you sob into your merlot and camembert.

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