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Students from low-income families pay price

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

By John Minto

The budget changes to student loans and allowances foreshadowed by Tertiary Education Minister Stephen Joyce reinforce the difficulties faced by students from low-income families in accessing quality tertiary education.

The four-year freeze on the parental-income threshold for access to the student allowance will mean the struggle for these students gets that much tougher as inflation cuts their access to what is already a minimal payment.

Similarly the refusal to extend the student allowance beyond four years makes it harder for students from low-income families to enter the longer, more expensive courses such as medicine or optometry. They will be left high and dry after four years.

These students, often Maori and Pacifica students, are already on the margin in terms of representation in higher level tertiary study and the hard work done by families and schools in low-income communities to get them into high-quality tertiary education study will be further undermined with these changes.

At the other end the post-graduate road is tougher as well with repayment requirements up 20% to 12% of earnings over $19,084. This will shorten repayment times but make a post-graduate experience that much more difficult.

The government's arguments for the changes don't stack up. Yes, we are in an economic recession but the government's priority was $2 billion in tax cuts for the top 10% of income earners two years ago with the shortfall to be picked up in this case by tertiary students from low-income families.

We should be removing barriers to tertiary education for these young New Zealanders rather than adding barbed wire and broken glass to the top.

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