By Mandy Te
The Government is completely disconnected from the lives of students - and a "genuine effort" to understand the problems students face are needed, a student union leader says.
That's why student unions in Aotearoa have teamed up with the Green Party to launch a people's inquiry into student wellbeing through a survey.
This comes as students across Aotearoa have been struggling to find jobs, pay for their bills and a recent study found that they are more than twice as likely as the general population to live in damp and mouldy homes. One person previously told Re: that being a student was a "poverty trap".
'Voices crying out for help, fairness and change'
Andrew Lessells, national president of the New Zealand Union of Students' Associations, says “these students have lost jobs because of Covid, are taking on crippling debt just to keep a roof over their heads and the most the Minister can do is offer a few thousand of them a miserly $25 a week in extra allowance".
"We need a minister that is prepared to listen to the voices crying out for help, fairness and change."
Kyla Campbell-Kamariera, Te Mana Ākonga tumuaki, says “to litigate student wellbeing experiences over and over again with no meaningful transformation is getting tiring and boring. We’re ready to see some change".
Campbell-Kamarieria says the inquiry would be a great opportunity to collect data that shows the diverse realities of tauira Māori across the country.
It was also time that disabled students were part of the conversation and that support offered to students acknowledged the "extra equity needs our tauira have", Alice Mander, co-president of the National Disabled Students’ Association, says.
“We know that disabled students face material hardship at greater rates than non-disabled students, and also face inequities and barriers in the tertiary education system itself. The support is simply not there for our students."
'Poverty isn't a rite of passage. It's a political decision'
Green Party's tertiary spokesperson, Chlöe Swarbrick, says “forty years ago, tertiary education was free. Student debt now chases New Zealanders across the country and the world for decades, to the tune of $16 billion. This was a political choice".
“Even worse, studying is undermined by astronomical rents and inaccessible support, meaning many trade off their health and grades. This isn’t the pathway out of poverty it’s sold as; for many, it is literally working and studying poverty," Swarbrick says.
Swarbrick says "piecemeal, invasive and inaccessible ‘Hardship Funds’ supposedly supporting students through Covid showed, the Government doesn’t take students seriously. We won’t take that any longer".
Swarbrick says today, students are being asked to raise their voices and be counted.
"While politicians have spent decades gutting student advocacy and support, today we’re taking the power back."
“That starts with irrefutable data. Not the kind of stuff StudyLink will keep you on hold for, but a solid understanding of who students across this country are, their experiences and their bottom lines.
“It’s time to reset the terms of the debate. Poverty isn’t a rite of passage. It’s a political decision."
A final report will be produced based on the responses from the survey and a copy will be presented to the Labour Government later this year.
Top Image: Chlöe Swarbrick in 2020. (File photo) Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images
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