Jonathan Gee, national president of the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations, says this election is a chance to make politics work better for students – which, he says, will benefit us all.
For too long, students and young people have been shut out of politics. Politics has failed to speak to our lived experiences, and has failed to address some of the greatest challenges that future generations are set to inherit. That ends this election.
Many students’ issues (including the issues that we all care about) have finally made it onto the political agenda. Some of those issues are much more basic than you might think.
Across the country students are telling me that they don’t have enough money to live on, they live in cold and damp flats that make them sick, and that too many of them are experiencing poor mental health.
To me these issues are extremely worrying. When any section of society is saying that they cannot afford basic needs, barely have a decent roof over their head, and suffer from poor health it says to me that our country and our politics can do so much better.
Deeply-rooted social stigma has become problematic too. Students are very often written off as avocado-loving, party-fuelled, lazy millennials who should count themselves lucky for any government support they already receive. My warning would be that we write off students at our peril.
Economic and social marginalisation like the kind faced by students is closely associated with political marginalisation. With this, it’s no wonder that fewer than half of eligible voters under 30 made it to the ballot box at the last election.
The odds have been against us, and they have been for some time. As students focus on economic survival, public tertiary institutions have become less of a hotbed for stimulating public debate among the student body. The adverse effect is not only less chance of academic success, but also decreased civic participation. In the face of user-pays education, the gradual defunding of student support and growing anti-millennial rhetoric, we have forgotten the public good of tertiary education.
But this election, things will be different. This year, we’re organising. After too long, students’ issues have finally made it onto the political agenda.
A universal student allowance, free counselling for under-25s, an increase in financial support, rental warrant of fitness and free tertiary education are just some of the policies being put forward this election that will be good for students.
This election is our chance to make things better for students. This election is our chance to remind New Zealand of the public good of tertiary education. That’s what I’m voting for, and I hope you will too.