Well-articulated rant #5

22 Jun

This week, ElevenHoursAhead will be publishing the thoughts of current and former students on the real value of the student allowance system. Here is the last personal reflection from Amanda Thomas:

Some friends of mine once jokingly typified me as being from the school of hard knocks. Comparatively I’m not really. My parents separated when I was eleven and for a while my mum (who was working six nights a week as a nurse), two brothers and I lived on mince on toast (the main reason mince now makes me want to hurl). Yep, we were povo, but by the time I was leaving school for university, my family fell into that awkward gap of “no, your family’s not poor enough for the student allowance but not well off enough to help you financially”. So I paid for my undergraduate and honours degrees with a student loan, and waited until I was almost 20 before I went flatting, knowing that getting living costs ($160 per week at that time) on my loan as well as fees was going to make it balloon.

After my honours and 18 months of travel and full time employment, I knew I needed to go back to uni to satisfy my craving for knowledge, to become a fully engaged citizen (which for me is being able to critically engage with ideas about power) and to produce research of interest to my community. I enrolled for a three year PhD programme, safe in the knowledge that given the dire lack of scholarship funding available, once I turned 24 I could claim the allowance and stop adding over $8,000 of living costs per year to my loan (which now totals over $60,000).

The decision to remove postgraduate allowance access by the government in May was sickening. This is the same government that campaigned on a platform of a “brighter future”. What this future has actually turned out to look like is one where record numbers of people are leaving for Australia, where more than a third of PhD students leave New Zealand once they graduate, where 45% of our unemployed are aged between 15 and 25. This government, hell-bent on cutting anything that doesn’t “grow the economy”, should take a look at this research which shows that the UK Government gets back ten times the amount they invest in tertiary students. But to be honest I am sick to the back teeth of having to relate everything back to this perceived economic crisis we’re in. The real crisis is a crisis of access to education, that fundamental thing that we should all have a right of entry to, rich, poor or somewhere in between. And education is less accessible without allowances for postgrads – without it, I would have added another $17,000 to my loan and I’m not sure I could have justified that. And like I said, there are plenty of families who are in a worse financial position than my own, and yet we expect their children to suck it up and take on a lifetime of debt with the added prospect of paying for the retirement of a generation who got free tertiary education.

For a country that spends endless amounts of time worrying over the brain drain, we have spent far too little time thinking about, and resisting, the way this budget actively creative disincentives to stay here to study, work and contribute to God’s Own


3 Responses to “Well-articulated rant #5”

  1. D Hall June 24, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

    One issue is that in this century more people want (and for some need) more education than our country is wealthier enough to provide. Sure people in the 1980s and earlier got free tertiary education but there were fewer of then and it was a fairly elitist system. Now that a much larger proportion of society expect tertiary education one question is how does that get paid for.

    One option is to ration access so fewer people get access, possibly even at higher subsidy rates. Presumably that means more elitism rather than less.

    It’s the same issue with other areas such as health care and elder care – our expectations outstrip our ability as a society to pay.

    I’m not seeing a lot of solutions being offered in these rants. OK, maybe my expectations should be about accepting the rant at face value, but you guys are smart so there should be something more than “I want it for free because other people got it for free”.

    So my challange is for you to propose solutions.

  2. Amanda Thomas June 25, 2012 at 6:33 am #

    You’re absolutely right that there is a real need to talk about access when talking about free education. I think that some of the solutions are pretty tricky to address. One thing is that as a society we should think about the expectation we place on young people that they need to go to uni. I really believe everyone who wants to go to uni should be able to, but that style of learning isn’t for everyone. But there is very little support for say trades training. In my family, I love uni based learning but my brother, who is extremely smart, battled through a degree my parents expected him to complete. So a societal shift and more respect for young people to make choices, but at the same time actually supporting other learning options.
    Personally, I think reclaiming free tertiary education is going to take a bit more time and energy. But the rants we’ve been ranting have been to keep in the forefront of peoples’ minds the effect these most recent changes will have. I absolutely do not think that arguing that we need, really need, more support for equity of access is unreasonable. Another solution is, if this country is in such dire financial straits – and I’m unconvinced by much of the governmental rhetoric- why not revoke the tax cuts that perpetuate growing inequality in Aotearoa New Zealand?
    There are solutions out there and you’re right, we need to be talking about them.

  3. Gradon July 10, 2012 at 11:40 pm #

    This blog post and the comments raise lots of questions. But one trend I’m interested in is what Amanda and Hannah have both mentioned – they way education is prioritised (especially in middle-class NZ) as the (primary) way to get a job. And in lots of ways I agree with Amanda that education should be free. Yet how do we reconcile these two seemingly competing expectations – everyone thinks they should go to uni so they ‘can get a job’ yet it should be free so as not to burden young people with high levels of debt just as they are starting out in adult life. I don’t know what the answer or solution is to this but I think a place to start would involve looking at the relationships between these competing expectations.Tutoring over the last few years has highlighted for me that there are some students who should just not be at uni. Not because they are stupid or anything like that, but that they are disengaged and don’t care about what they are learning. They think of education as purely instrumentalist, as a way to get a job. Maybe it would be better for them to just do some job based training instead? Maybe what we need to be thinking about, like Amanda said, is creating a wider range of life paths or opportunities for young people.

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