Students struggling to get by

Some pretty interesting research was released today by the Financial Education and Research Centre at Massey University, who surveyed nearly 300 students about their views towards money and their finances.

What’s pretty alarming are the numbers that show the burden of debt and the struggle for students to get by day-today:

  •        34.9% said they’ve had to change their eating habits in the past six months because of insufficient funds
  •        40.8% admitted that money is a significant source of worry for them
  •        11.5% said they’re struggling to make ends meet
  •        10% said they couldn’t manage on a day-to-day basis without borrowing money.

These are worrying stats.

The data hasn’t been broken down this far, but it’d be interesting to know how many of these students were postgraduate students, and how this has changed since the Government removed their access to allowances.

Anecdotal info we’ve had from a number of postgraduate students shows they’re really struggling since the introduction of this short-sighted policy, and many have been forced to walk away from their study.

I’ve launched a Members’ Bill to reinstate the allowance for postgraduate students, and we’ve got a campaign to let the Minister know the effect this is having – you can have your say here.

We need a smart approach to tertiary education that invests in the future and lessens the burden of debt, as well as ensuring that students have enough to live on while they’re studying.

Instead, this Government is being short-sighted by pulling the rug out from under students by chipping away at allowance eligibility and increasing student loan repayments, making it a struggle for students and graduates to get by.

20 thoughts on “Students struggling to get by

  1. To be honest, I’m just assuming I won’t be able to afford post-grad. Reinstating the student allowance for those students isn’t just a good idea though, it’s absolutely essential if we want to raise wages in this country and rely on our own talent rather than importing all our professionals. Further to that, I think all students in financial hardship should be able to borrow living costs, even if they’re already getting the student allowance. (Currently, every dollar of student allowance is taken off the maximum living costs you can borrow, which technically means I can borrow about -$30.) I mean, ideally the student allowance would be higher, but letting us borrow the extra money we need to live on under the student loan scheme is a good second-best – far better than leaving students to the mercies of payday loan companies with excessive interest rates. Not all students can get a job to cover their study costs, for example disabled students who can manage studying, but not much else on top of that. We can’t drop to part time and get part time work because then we lose the allowance and they won’t give you limited full-time status if you’re capable of working as well as part-time study, because that means you’re capable of full-time study. Expecting people with disabilities to get by on $206/week, plus $40 for the accommodation supplement ($60 in Auckland) is ridiculous. For comparison, the minimum wage is $550!

    And yeah, though I didn’t take part in this poll, I fall into three of those four categories. The only two reasons I don’t fit the last one are that I refuse to use predatory high-interest lenders unless I’m actually starving, and Studylink won’t let me borrow from them.

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  2. The most urgent thing is to get an increase in living costs for those in post graduate study.

    With costs rising faster than the CPI there is pressure on the living cost component to provide for those in post graduate study – undergraduates with wealthier parents get family assistance. But undergraduates who once got the allowance + accommodation supplement struggle on the lower level living cost. And of course job shortages make it harder to save in the holidays or find part-time work.

    Step 1

    The Greens should propose an increase in living costs for post graduate students to the adult dole rate (currently $206 a week)?

    This would assist both those undergraduates who once got student allowance and those who did not – that is be universal.

    Step 2

    Propose payment of allowances to post graduate students based on their subject – assessed high value to the economy/community (possibly via a bond).

    Step 3

    Declare a policy to restore allowances to post graduate students those with lower parental income (as/when this is budgeted for).

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  3. Many students have been punished by this government over recent years. My personal experience we are a family with 2 students (Mum and Dad) and a little boy (5 years old). Our the food in our house is now a lot of cheap processed food (such as 2 mins noodles, cheap white bread, pasta), which is known contribute to health issues such as obesity (I am a student nurse and am already obese with a BMI of 45+).

    It worries me that my son (and many other children) has to eat this rubbish but with such a tight food budget (some weeks only $50) getting fresh food is difficult. We can not have a vege garden due to land restrictions and lack of energy/money maintaining such a project.

    Rents are very expensive and I know of students living in bad relationships just to have a roof over their head. I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones and although each week I wonder how I will feed my family I know there are others worse off then me.

    My husband and I are both working part time which supplements our income a little (but we pay secondary tax on this and WINZ removes our benefit $ for $ after a certain amount which is calculated before tax (30c for me, 70c for husband from my husbands earnings and vice versa for my earnings).

    It is at the stage that my husband works one of his work days for nothing and his boss gets unhappy that he is unable to take extra shifts (seriously would you work 8 hours just to pay all the money back from your benefit/tax?) There was one week my husband and I worked 30 hours combined on minimum wage and due to secondary tax we got less than what we would get with working less hours and keeping more benefit.

    We often have extra debts pop up as students, as a nursing student I have had to pay for a uniform ($80 just for 1 tunic), and several text books which can be up to $150 per book. These days the $1000 course related costs goes no where, especially if you need a PC or laptop to be able to study (which is a major component to most tertiary courses these days).

    There is so much wrong with the current system that I could go on all night. I fear for the future of this country, I know if I could I would take the next plane nearly anywhere else with my family.

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  4. I know my experience isn’t typical, but the first houseful of students at Lombard St in Palmerston North, where Massey University is, were female mostly, quiet mostly, well behaved mostly. They seemed like quite nice people, but none appeared to be starving.

    The second houseful were all males, they grew pot out the back, the partied almost every weekend, they urinated in public, they set fire to property on the street, brought back street signs they’d stolen, and drew giant penis shapes on the fences. They weren’t starving either. They also regularly ran the mailboxes over and vandalised the house, inside and out.

    Obviously it’s their parents fault, failing to teach their boys how to behave like people instead of animals.

    University should be for females only. In my opinion. :)

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  5. Key govt loves to befriend banks…
    The bigger debts small people have, the better and bigger control they have over your life, both physically and mentally…now and future.
    In short, they own you ! What can we do about it?

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  6. Revelation No1:

    90% of those students should not be there. They do not have the intelligence nor imagination to convert their education into value-added.

    Tertiary education belongs to the sciences, and pre-apprenticeship training. This MASSIVELY bloated industry exists only because we subside it, and dumb down entry criteria, and fool young people of limited ability that it will win them a better future.

    The whole industry desperately needs to be re-rationalised, and on many different levels.

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  7. Andrew Atkin “dumb down entry criteria, and fool young people of limited ability that it will win them a better future.”

    I think that comment is 100% true. There are some people who are wasting their time at University, taking up space, getting seriously in debt, and they will have nothing at the end UNLESS the Universities dumb down their courses to suit their less able students. At which point employers will regard the graduates as ‘unsuitable for work’ which is exactly what’s happening in the USA right now. Ability alone ought to be the criteria to attend University, regardless of income, the way it used to be.

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  8. How would it suit, for example, if the government stopped funding abortions and spurious sex education (which really does not appear to be working or helping our younger people to make safe and healthy choices),raised the drinking age and pulled the plug on other legalised jollies, the fallout of which has eventually to be funded from the seemingly inexhaustable taxpayer dollar, and redeployed that money toward helping the genuinely struggling student?
    There are ways of making savings for what really matters in those seasons of every individual’s life.

    Trouble is, as a society there is now a general tendency to want it all.
    NOW!
    The money has to come from somewhere.
    What is more important?

    A thought for others to consider.

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  9. Andrew, what a load of confused nonsense – the concept of arbitrary decisions as to course range and access limited to a few with superior ability is not consistent with the user paying for the cost of study.

    That combines the worst of state control with the worst system of society – entrenched “gated community” privilege.

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  10. @SPC And I really do mean AT! “Andrew, what a load of confused nonsense – the concept of arbitrary decisions as to course range and access limited to a few with superior ability is not consistent with the user paying for the cost of study.

    That combines the worst of state control with the worst system of society – entrenched “gated community” privilege.”

    So poor or wealthy people who have absolutely no training to do university study, who can get a student loan, shall be catered for as if they do have the academic skills to learn?

    Notice I said ‘poor or wealthy’ as income does not equate to intelligence, even if you as an anonymous deluded soul thinks there is a relationship.

    Having a population of University trained dumbos will not improve their ability to work, or be employed, it may even weaken their chances as not all employers want University trained, or even intelligent, employees. People who work fitting one part to another in some complicated machine do not need a University education, and there is no reason why they should be saddled with tremendous debt, on top of their failed course.

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  11. SPC:

    After proving for 4 years that you are not exceptionally stupid, and have a certain diligence, and a mental disposition to institutional conformity, you will get a better job than the average non-graduate.

    What an incredibly wasteful and expensive way for people to credentialise themselves. We never use to do this – not to this extreme. Switzerland still doesn’t do it.

    For the most part, it is a shockingly wasteful system for both the individual and society. We should not be subsidising it anything like what we do today.

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  12. Kia Ora Holly,

    I think what the Greens are proposing here is good. Fewer people from poorer socio-economic groups will make it through under the National Party’s reforms of the student allowance system.

    In the long term I think the best education system is a free one- one not built on gigantic student loan debt, and therefore in the long term, economically unsustainable. Students with big student loans will be in debt for the majority of their working lives. What is the ultimate value of such an education- where you finish paying for it 5 years before you retire?

    In these neo-liberal times some people might say ‘no one deserves a free lunch’. But students that get degrees and then jobs spend their working lives giving back to the community well beyond their salary packages. I have a friend that teaches at a high school in South Auckland and he offers many days beyond his paid teaching hours to helping his kids in their cultural and sports activities. Allowing people to gain an education without debt so they can give back to communities through their jobs would only increase an ethic of community and public service- one at odds with free market philosophies and values built on self interest.

    An education without debt is therefore not ‘free’. People that graduate with degrees spend their entire working lives giving back to their communities once they are employed. In broader society, communities are held together by the tireless work of volunteers, parents, and community workers that serve while getting no financial rewards- netball and rugby clubs are made up of such people.

    Upping the tax rate for the highest income earners, whilst asking for smaller contributions ( based on what people can live with and afford) from other socio-economic classes within the community might contribute towards funding an education without debt for all.

    But in the short term alleviating student debt and poverty through the ways you have outlined in your article is valuable, Holly. Students from most sections of the community struggle today, they don’t eat well or eat enough, they hold down multiple jobs just to pay rent, they live hand to mouth, and they work crazy hours meeting deadlines for Uni assignments. Students put up with these hardships with stoicism- the lack of food and sleep, insecurity of accomodation, the crazy hours. I know my friends and I enjoyed the hardships of student life, because we enjoyed struggle. Students can cope with a lack of sleep, food, insecurity of rent payments, crazy hours- thats part of the badge of honour for students I reckon. What they shouldn’t have to put up with is lifelong debt in exchange for a university qualification.

    I think what the Greens are doing in regards to student allowances is very positive Holly. I will be interested to see whether your party will be looking at the longer term implications of tertiary education and the student loan system, in light of long term sustainability- economic, social and ecological. Best, Tony Fala

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  13. Thanks for that TED video, Graeme.

    I have long thought education is back to front – we should watch the lecture at home, and then come into class for the discussion/practice part of learning. It’s crazy to abandon the teacher at the only point of learning where you actually need them!!

    You might find this of interest. I have been surprised at the positive responses I got from it, from the political left too.

    http://andrewatkin.blogspot.co.nz/2010/11/education-new-model.html

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  14. Graham and Andrew, the thread topic is the ability of students to support themselves while they study.

    But, it is a fact that graduates are better off for their study and our relative lack of support for apprenticeships (in work training) is not the issue, nor corporate practice to offload training costs onto the state.

    The concept of limiting places to an academic elite and passing on full cost of study (so that the poor who qualify cannot then afford to study in any case – as we will note with the impact of the end of post graduate student allowances) is not consistent with best practice. This is to award scholarships to the quality students so that they can afford to continue study to post graduate level and thus are encouraged to do so.

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  15. Well in the good ol’ days of free education, I remember them well, students bitched and moaned about not having enough money, except those from wealthy families. Now even students from wealthy families are bitching and moaning about not enough money. Probably because they’re being blackmailed into acquiring great debt with less prospect of getting a decent reward, before they retire!

    I’m not proposing any debt being incurred by students, only you know where you got that from SPC.

    I’m proposing FREE EDUCATION for those who have the proven academic skills to take advantage of it. Such as University Entrance examinations, they seemed to work pretty well. On top of that Bursary examinations for the even more adept to learn students. And we all pay for it with TAXES, that dirty 5 letter word that capitalists hate and socialists appreciate.

    An if my financially poor daughter manages to prove herself academically and proves she s deserves our support financially she should get it, because she earned it. She should not have to pay off a mountain of debt just to satisfy some greedy capitalistic bank’s Board of Directors, who got their education by exactly the method I have described, when they were bitching and moaning as students!

    In my opinion.

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  16. Then Graeme, why did you contend with my response to Andrew (he proposed the full cost of tertiary study be passed on)?

    After all, I simply pointed out that his idea to both restrict access to the most able students AND pass on full cost was not consistent.

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  17. I claim the evidence I presented proves American graduates under the current system are deemed “unsuitable for work” by employers, evidence you dispute from a British source, the BBC, SPC. Even though the speaker in the video supports the current system, and wishes to extend it, and also introduce other reforms into the American system. I have a feeling transferable credits already exist in NZ universities? Anyway, it is my believe that the American system proves itself to be inadequate, that which you dispute.

    Therefore more of the same, students pay by way of students loans, is the wrong way to go. More of the same will eventuate in more of the same, graduates deemed unsuitable for work by employers.

    Andrew Atkin contends that there is no such thing as ‘free education’ where as I see paying by way of taxes is FREE EDUCATION to the person getting the education.

    The other reforms in the video are about changing the place where students learn, which is valid regardless of which payment system is used. We can see and know that students who can learn by correspondence appear to suffer no penalty, although I don’t think I’d do very well as I’d keep giving myself day off. I need a structured class, and I suspect so do many students.

    I was essentially blackmailed into getting a student loan to do a course I wasn’t prepared for, or interested in. I have absolutely no intention of ever paying any of it back, every letter I get from Inland Revenue goes directly to recycling, unopened. All I got was a debt, and I know there are a lot more people just like me. That’s the effect of being on an Unemployment Benefit, and being told ‘lose the benefit or sign up for a loan’ which is blackmail. There wasn’t any work then, and there never would have been for the study course I ‘chose,’ under protest I chose it anyway.

    That’s almost $20,000.00 as a ‘loan’ for survival I’d have been much better off, and may even have been willing to pay it back, if it were given in good faith, but it was blackmail.

    This current system is doomed for failure, the American experience, that you seem to want to support, proves it.

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  18. Post secondary education is now beyond the means of most people who arent’ swimming in money. My husband and I are middle class and we did pay for the first few months to send my daughter to college an hour and a half away, which meant paying living expenses for an apartment as well. We were managing even though it was a struggle, but my daughter got very ill in September – October and we soon realized that she would be unable to complete the program to a satisfactory standard as it was very intensive. Her instructor had told us we had two weeks to decide and we decided on the tenth day. When Erin went to the college to get whatever refund we were entitled to, we were refused. We applied in writing separately requesting a refund and never heard another word – even though their teacher had given out false information.

    I’m sorry to say that I can’t help but feel that post-secondary is a racket

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