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September 21, 2014 | by  | in Opinion VUWSA |
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Exec Column

Caroline Thirsk | Education Officer

I immigrated to New Zealand with my family at the end of December 2012, so I have been in New Zealand for less than two years. Before I came here, however, I spent two years at university in South Africa, so I have a different perspective on some things than many people here.

I really enjoyed the Great Political Debate that was hosted by VUWSA in the Hub, and was impressed with how many people turned up and the important issues that were raised, especially around student funding and tertiary education, as that is particularly important in my role at VUWSA. Although the issues that were raised were very important and needed to be discussed, I found it a bit sad that nothing positive was said about the tertiary-education system in New Zealand.

Let me put it into a bit of perspective for you. In South Africa, 67 per cent of matriculants (equivalent to Year 13) passed their final year. This may sound good until you know that in order to achieve that percentage, government lowered the pass rate to 33 per cent. It gets worse when you factor in that that only accounts for 23 per cent of the population completing matric. Of those, only a further 23 per cent (comparatively, New Zealand’s level is 49 per cent at a far higher pass rate) have actually qualified for university and even less than that can afford to go. There is no such thing as an interest-free student loan or a student allowance in South Africa, and fees are astronomically higher in comparison. This makes tertiary education available to very few people.

So why am I babbling on like this when we are in New Zealand and not South Africa? I know that Student Loans can very quickly reach alarming heights and that many students are in very difficult positions and are struggling. I know that tertiary education is not available to everyone, as it ideally should be. I fully agree that we have the responsibility to constantly try to improve things and should not settle for the status quo. However, I also think that, every once in a while, we should take a moment to sit back and be grateful that, comparatively, New Zealand does a pretty good job and that we are fortunate to be able to study in such a country – whether we have lived here all our lives or are here just for our university years.

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