The release of this year’s Budget has, unsurprisingly, ruffled a financial feather or two in the tertiary education sector.
Finance Minister Steven Joyce announced that the Government will spend an additional $113 million on the tertiary sector over the next four years, most of which will go toward Science and Technology-related courses.
Meanwhile, Humanities and Social Sciences haven’t seen an increase in funding for almost five years.
However, VUWSA President Rick Zwaan said the announcement of additional funding was misleading. “It’s $113 million of money being ‘re-prioritised’ to appear as increased spending.”
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The Government also announced plans to reduce maximum tertiary fee increases from four per cent to three per cent, which is estimated to save the average student $60 a year.
Universities New Zealand (UNZ) Executive Director Christopher Whelan told Salient the move from four per cent to three per cent “is being justified on the basis that there has been almost no increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) over the past year. The CPI measures the price change of household goods and services, so it doesn’t include most of the costs that universities cover—salaries, property maintenance, ICT and library purchases.”
The New Zealand Union of Students’ Association (NZUSA) and the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) have suggested that the adjustment would ultimately leave universities and polytechnics underfunded.
A spokesperson from Victoria told Salient that the University’s decision regarding fee increases will be made by the University Council in December, but Vic is “looking forward to taking part in the Government’s public consultation” regarding the changes.
NZUSA President Rory McCourt said that “while the theoretical saving is welcome, $60 is nothing compared to the fees and charges that the Government has slapped on students since 2008.”
In particular, the extra $60 will do little to alleviate the financial strains of ever-rising rent prices.
“Last year the average Auckland student rent went up $430 (or $8.26 per week) for a single room in a three bedroom flat… Student support has increased by only 90 cents per week. The Government has got to give students enough to live on,” McCourt said.
The Government has also decided to freeze the parental income threshold for student allowances over the next four years, which according to McCourt could see an extra 4000 students go into debt.
Additionally, the Budget confirmed that restrictions would be maintained on allowances for postgrad students and the seven-year cap on student loans, introduced in 2010, would remain.
The cap has been heavily criticised by the New Zealand Medical Students Association (NZMSA), Young Labour and the Young Nats for failing to support Medical students whose degrees take at least six years. Those who enter medical school after previous years of study can be stuck without financial support at the tail end of their degrees.
NZMSA President Elizabeth Berryman chastised the move. “There is no hope for about 150 students annually who cannot stump up at least $15,000 in the final year of study, in some cases $30,000 for the last two years.”
NZMSA has launched the campaign #letmefinish in the hope of convincing Joyce and the Government to give medical students an exemption from the seven-year cap.
More generally, Whelan claimed the “freezing of parental income thresholds and restrictions of post-graduate allowances has the potential to turn away students whose families are unable to support them financially”. While UNZ had not yet seen evidence that the allowance changes had “significantly affected enrollments”, it assured Salient that it would continue to monitor the issue.