Caitlin Barlow-Groome, Acting National President, New Zealand Union of Students' Associations (NZUSA) shares her thoughts on the Tertiary Education Strategy’s proposed Objective Two: barrier free access and ensuring great education opportunities and outcomes are within reach for every learner.

NZUSA believes tertiary education is a right not a privilege. Yet, we constantly see barriers facing students which deter them from studying. For many students, the cost of living is the biggest struggle and the constant burden of knowing their loan is growing just so that they can live and support themselves has a real impact on a student’s general health and well-being.

The Postgraduate Student Allowance would increase the well-being of our fellow students studying level 8 and above. As we all know, postgraduate courses are intense enough without having to also balance paid work and, in some instances, provide for your family. There is a need for more teachers in our society, yet many cannot afford to pursue further study due to the fear of increasing their debt in order to make ends meet.

On 1 January, 2013, the Postgraduate Student Allowance was removed. During the 2017 General Election, we saw the Labour Party commit to two things for tertiary students - Postgraduate Student Allowance and Fees Free tertiary education.

Currently, any undergraduate 24 years and over has access to a weekly allowance. We at NZUSA and across the tertiary education sector are hearing how people think it is better for their pocket if they were to complete two undergraduate courses rather than move into postgraduate study. We have also heard from students across Aotearoa New Zealand who are studying postgrad and having three part- time jobs to just to make it all work. How can the Government say they want learners to access and fully participate in education, when being able to afford to live is often the main priority of our students?

As an organisation, NZUSA been fighting to see the Postgraduate Student Allowance restored since 2014. However, even after MP Chlöe Swarbrick accepted our petition with over 5,500 signatures in April 2019, we still did not see it in the 2020 well-being budget.

Last week, we spoke to Universities New Zealand, where we asked all Vice Chancellors to support us in our quest to restore the Postgraduate Student Allowance, by writing a letter to Minister Hipkins and calling for the Government to restore the student allowance for level 8 and above postgraduate certificates and diplomas, masters degrees, and doctorates.

The Tertiary Education Strategy’s proposed objective of creating barrier free access must do more to support those currently studying, and those looking to further their studies at postgraduate level. We believe reinstating the Postgraduate Student Allowance will not only reduce the financial barriers for students to continue their studies, but it will mean our graduates leave education with the energy and drive to contribute to creating a better society for all.