Isabella Lenihan-Ikin, president of the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations, looks at Budget 2020 and both provision for students and missed opportunities for addressing student hardship.

Budget 2020 made steps towards addressing student financial hardship and barriers to tertiary education, but it missed the critical opportunity to transform the tertiary education sector for good. Ultimately, the government has taken a band-aid approach to addressing student hardship and the barriers to tertiary education more broadly.

There are three components of Budget 2020 that provide support to tertiary students.

$20 Million Tertiary Student Hardship Fund

One of the demands of the National Student Action Plan on Covid-19, which was created by forty-four students associations across Aotearoa New Zealand before the country went into level four lockdown, was a student hardship fund. It is pleasing to see that the government has listened to learners by delivering this much needed assistance to alleviate student hardship, despite it being 8 weeks too late.

Given that this fund will only provide short-term relief to students facing hardship arising from COVID-19, it fails to address the long-term challenges of poverty, financial insecurity and rising living costs that tertiary students are experiencing.

Free Trades Training and Apprenticeships

The government's $1.6 billion investment in training and apprenticeships to remove the cost of tuition fees, supports the government’s movement towards barrier free tertiary education. The absence of age requirements upholds the value of education being a lifelong passport to opportunity.

However, the benefit of this investment will not be able to be full realised without a paralleled investment change to the system of weekly student support. It is not just the cost of tuition that acts as a barrier to education or retraining. The limited availability and amount of weekly student support provided through Study Link means that being a student is financially out of reach for many.

Adult and Community Education

Adult and Community Education was gutted by the last government, but today the government committed $16 million to invest in these programmes, creating opportunities for people to upskill and retrain.  

This will be crucial for those who may lose or have lost their job as a result of COVID-19, and will open up doors for adults with families and existing jobs to continue their education in a more accessible way.

This investment reflects the importance of education being a continuous and lifelong process. Irrespective of one’s age, or past experience, education is a passport to opportunities, new skills and ways of thinking.

Missed Opportunities

Given the timing of this Budget, it had the potential to set New Zealand on a new economic path; one that recognises education as a public good.

It had the potential to implement the vision that Jacinda Ardern shared in the weeks leading up to the 2017 General Election, “When you are trained and educated, that benefits all of us, and the New Zealand economy as a whole.”

This Budget missed the mark by failing to deliver sufficient ongoing support measures for tertiary students in a time of significant hardship and uncertainty, which are more pronounced for already marginalised communities. It has not reinstated the post graduate student allowance (as promised) and student allowances and loan weekly payments remain at unliveable levels. Furthermore, other existing caps on these services, which shut disadvantaged people out of education, such as age restrictions and weekly limits, have not been addressed.

Going forward, the only way that the government can truly support tertiary students is by introducing a Universal Education Income / Te Rourou Matanui-a-Wānanga.