Budget 2020 fails to deliver for students

Three weeks into the lockdown, the Government announced a student support package as a temporary solution to help students through the current pandemic. However, this was not a complete solution and many students declared it to be too little, too late. With Budget 2020 having just been announced, many expected to see more practical assistance, but none was more forthcoming.

On April 14, Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced a tertiary student package to “help cover extra costs, by increasing the student loan amount available for course-related costs for fulltime students from $1,000 to $2,000”. It also continued support payments for students unable to study online, and made sure that people would not be denied future support if COVID-19 caused their course to be discontinued. The package contained $98 million of capital expenditure, and according to Hipkins, “[government] are also working on a second package of changes to prepare the system for significant growth in participation in key strategic areas as great numbers of New Zealanders are expected to look to retrain and some industries need bigger workforces”.

In other words, the package was a temporary solution which increased the amount students can borrow from the government and provided no assistance with living costs. Students are prohibited from using the course-related costs portion of their student loan to pay their “normal accommodation costs”. Isabella Lenihan-Ikin, president of the NZUSA, stated that “the course-related cost is where the Government thinks that they have made the biggest change to people’s lives. It cannot cover rent and that is the biggest expenditure that students have at this particular time”. In addition, the package is not available to international or part-time students. “Increasing student debt is not providing student support,” added Lenihan-Ikin, “we’re really disappointed with the support package, if it can even be classed as a support package”.

This “quick fix” from the Government left much to be desired. Knowing that more support was claimed to be coming, Budget 2020 seemed like the perfect place to look. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated “we know this is not the time for business as usual, it’s the time for a relentless focus on jobs, on training, on education, and the role they all can play to support our environment, and our people”. She certainty suggested that education would feature largely in the budget. However, this was not the case for university student support.

Buget 2020 was announced on May 14. Under this budget, a $20 million hardship fund will be created to support the worst impacted students. This will be distributed by tertiary providers and “gets money into the hands of students who need it quickly”, says Hipkins. Meanwhile, a trades and apprenticeships package will be created with a value of $1.6 billion, with the goal of retraining those who lost thier jobs due to COVID-19. The fees-free programme has not been altered, and post-graduate students still can’t get a student allowance, despite Labour promising this in the leadup to the 2017 election. This does not even begin to address the needs of the student population.

By George Hampton