Free fees will help end crushing feeling of student debt

Posted By TEU on Dec 8, 2017 | 2 comments

Sandra Grey, national president of the Tertiary Education Union, reflects on her own time as a student to explain why fees-free tertiary education benefits us all.

There’s a pile of unopened envelopes from IRD tucked away at my parents. Some have been sealed for nearly two decades.

These rejected envelopes contain my student loan statements from five years of study at the University of Auckland. I never opened the envelopes when I was doing my studies as the debt mounting up felt crushing, and I feared if I saw how much I would quit my studies.

This is a feeling that is shared by tens of thousands of young and not so young, kiwis.

Eight years after completing my PhD I read my final student loan statement. My studies required me to borrow $20,000 for five years study and I was charged around $27,000 in interest for the time I held the loan.

So my own crushing start to adulthood will explain why the move to fees-free study has me grinning wildly.

At last I can look around me and think that none of the kids dearest to me will suffer the crushing weight of student debt. And for friends who have been made redundant from jobs they’ve held for decades, they can properly consider studying a new trade or profession without worrying about crushing midlife debt, even if only for a single year.

The move to fees-free tertiary education is about just giving people a good start in life, or a second chance. It recognises that tertiary education is only truly accessible and transformative if we pool public resources and agree to pay the bill.

And we should chip in because we all benefit from having educated neighbours, colleagues, contractors, employees, and family. Tertiary education, in fact all education, is about the public good. We all benefit from having plumbers who understand how to make seals tight; nurses who know how to dress wounds to avoid infection; and teachers who can help our kids learn to read.

That is why covering the cost of training people at the start of their careers, or giving them a second chance, is something we should all welcome.

So congratulations to our new government, to Labour, New Zealand First and Greens for getting us here. Congratulations for taking away that crushing feeling bought on by massive student debt (well they will eventually, I’m sure). Congratulations for getting us back to being a society that recognises how important education is to us all.

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  1. While the fees are free, many will still need to borrow money to pay for rent, food and travel. The fees are only a quarter of the cost of a university education.

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  2. I agree with your thoughts Sandra, but unfortunately this policy does nothing for adult students who want a ‘second chance’ after being made redundant, as it’s only available to first-time students. I am one of those who was made redundant in my late 30s. I decided to go back to uni and did a one-year grad dip because I couldn’t afford to do a full degree. But I’ll never financially recover from the year of lost earnings on top of tuition fees. It would have been so much easier if I’d been entitled to free tuition fees. Like you, I also had to pay interest for the loan I took out on my bachelor’s degree many years ago, which was charged from day one. I’m pleased for future generations that they won’t have to suffer the same fate, but so far this government has done nothing to improve my own prospects in life. As a single person with no children, politicians couldn’t give two hoots about securing my vote. Cheaper access to dental healthcare and postgraduate/community education would be a nice start.

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