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University of Canterbury graduate and current Rhodes Scholar Andrew Dean has written a book about the current predicament of students in New Zealand.
Ruth, Roger and Me: Debts and Legacies explores the historical context in New Zealand which lead to the current economic, social and political position of students today.
Dean’s book critiques the neo-liberal reforms championed by former MPs Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson in the 1980s and 90s, and claims these reforms created an alienated, precarious and stressed generation.
He dubs our generation the children of “the mother of all budgets” delivered by Ruth Richardson in 1991, which made significant cuts to education, health and welfare.
For tertiary education, the 1991 budget cut the amount provided in student allowances, raised the age that allowances are free from means testing from 20 to 24, and introduced the student loan scheme.
VUWSA President Rick Zwaan also criticised the changes made to university funding as outlined by Dean. “It means that universities are forced to compete with each other for students (or EFTS as we are commonly referred to) … the current funding system changed dramatically in the 90s,” Zwaan said.
Ruth, Roger and Me addresses “poverty wages, unpaid internships, casual contracts, unemployment and underemployment, the spiralling cost of housing, even doctors’ fees” and ties these to a particular economic and political history.
The book questions the way in which “our current economic and social arrangements have become neutral in the public imagination, just a form of common sense”.
Douglas’ and Richardson’s continued defence of their reforms are presented in the book, including a visit to Richardson’s home in which she tells Dean “your words of ‘discomfort, loss and disconnection’ don’t resonate with me at all”.
Zwaan agrees with Dean’s claims. “We now have massive loans, have less support to study forcing us to work more hours in insecure jobs than our parents did. On top of that we’re also told that our degrees are worth less than they used to be and the employment market is not as pretty as it once was,” Zwaan said.
In keeping with Dean’s stressed and financially strained generation, the book is short, easy to read and can be purchased for $15.