As part of their qualifications, students in healthcare, social work and education are required to complete unpaid placements to practically apply what they have learnt. 

But Masters student Bex Howells says unpaid placements are causing financial hardship for students - leaving them with little time or energy to take on extra work to pay their bills.

So she wants to change that. 

Eight months ago, Bex started Paid Placements Aotearoa (PPA) as a social media movement to get students paid for their placements.  

PPA is a platform for students to anonymously share their placement stories. 

Running PPA has led Bex to launch a petition to get students in healthcare, social work and education paid for the work they do on placement. 

Her petition asks for students on placement to receive a stipend from the government, paid through Studylink. 

A stipend is a tax-free fund to help cover living costs and receiving it would not class students as employees. 

Master student Bex Howells created the petition to get paid placements in Aotearoa.

The petition proposes first year students be paid at the rate of the training wage, second year students be paid at the rate of the minimum wage and third year students and above be paid at the rate of the living wage. 

For 2024, that would look like: 

Year 1: $32,084.64

Year 2: $39,312.72

Year 3+: $44,008.58

Bex says students are not asking for special treatment, they are asking for these professions to be brought in line with other professions which get paid to train. 

“Police get paid to train, so do tradies… healthcare, social work and education are the anomaly,” Bex says. 

In Aotearoa, police cadets are paid $56,219.00 to train for 20 weeks to become police officers. 

There have been previous petitions to get nursing students paid for their placements, such as a 2022 petition created by student nurse Arya Zale which received over 27,000 signatures. 

That same year, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation asked for “affordable” and “accessible” training in their “We need nurses” petition as part of their “Maranga Mai!” campaign. 

Bex says “while it's great there's heaps of conversation around paying nurses, there's a hell of a lot of other professions also doing unpaid placements”. 

She says many people have picked up on how unpaid placements disproportionately affect women too. 

74% of all health students in New Zealand in 2022 were women, according Ministry of Education data. 

Women account for 92% of our nurses, 85% of our social workers and 76% of our teachers

Globally, women make up 67% of the health and social care workforce

Victoria University of Wellington students, including Bex Howells, celebrating the launch of PPA's petition. 

Bex says her petition is about “so much more than paying people to train”. 

New Zealand has large worker shortages in healthcare, leading to long wait lists for specialist appointments and long wait times for surgery

The demand for secondary school teachers is projected to keep growing until 2025, the Ministry of Education says. 

We need to incentivise students to enter in and stay in these professions, Bex says. 

“It’s a waste to get them halfway through their qualification and have them drop out because they can’t afford to be on placement.” 

Bex says she has seen a “ridiculous amount of support” for getting paid placements in Aotearoa and is aiming to get more than 10,000 signatures on the petition before submitting it to the Government in May. 

Ensuring students have ‘high quality learning experiences’ 

“Sharing the costs [of tertiary education] between the government and the student is a recognition of the shared benefits of tertiary education,” says the Ministry of Education’s policy acting deputy Andrea Schollmann. 

Schollmann says the main way the government supports tertiary students to meet their living expenses is through forms of student support including student loans and allowances. 

“The regulatory bodies of some professions, such as nursing, have requirements around paid placements,” Schollmann says. 

“In other professions, decisions are made by education providers and the employers that provide placements.”   

Schollmann says the Ministry of Education’s “primary concern” for students doing workplace training “is that they have high quality learning experiences”. 

Bex says paying students to work doesn’t take away from their learning experience. 

“The thing that actually takes away from people’s learning experience is not being able to afford food and being so hungry that you faint on placement,” Bex says. 

“It’s very difficult to learn when you're stressed about meeting your basic human needs.”

More stories:

Health students don’t get paid on placement and it sucks

Students on clinical placements are paying bills from an empty bank account.

Sleeping in cars and working 3 jobs: why our future doctors are stressed

“A disaster waiting to happen”.

Student nurses report living in cars, sheds to make ends meet

"The reality is the financial burden is real.”