Friday, October 14, 2011

Investing In NZ's Future - Where We Stand With Students pt 1

Interest on student loans
We strongly supported Labour's bill to remove interest on student loans as a first step toward tackling our escalating student debt crisis.
However, taking interest off the loans was only a partial solution. Our students are still forced to begin their working lives saddled with crippling debt, and our best and brightest are still driven offshore in order to pay it back. New Zealand First will fight to keep your student loans interest free. Better still, we will strive to reduce the amount you have to borrow to live and to pay your fees with our universal student allowance policy and movement toward a zero fees model for tertiary education.
In the mean time, our dollar-for-dollar student loan repayment scheme will make it easier for you to pay off your debt faster.

Student loan entitlement
Access to tertiary education is a fundamental birthright for all Kiwis - whether you've just finished high school or you're a mature student. We noted Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce's moves to restrict student loan entitlement with concern as surely, in the midst of a recession, the most logical thing for many to do is retrain and upskill in the hopes of finding future employment. New Zealand First will make it easier for Kiwis to access tertiary education by lowering your fees and preserving your ability to get a student loan.

Student allowances
New Zealand First has vigorously campaigned for a Universal Student Allowance since our founding in 1993. Students are one of the few groups in our society forced to borrow to live, as well as being some of the most economically vulnerable - especially during a recession. It is unreasonable to expect full-time students to have to seek full-time employment to survive, particularly when many of the job vacancies you would otherwise be filling simply no longer exist. It is also fundamentally unfair to decide whether to hand out assistance to struggling students on the basis of how much your parents make. Not only does this make it far harder to allocate allowances on the basis of need, the current system is open to abuse by students from wealthier backgrounds whose parents have mastered the art of income trusts.
Kiwi students used to enjoy a generous universal student allowance back in the "good old days". New Zealand First will give students a fair go by restoring this entitlement.

Tertiary fees
Kiwi students pay some of the highest fees in the developed world. This is partially due to persistent under-investment in tertiary education by successive governments; and partially because universities have been allowed far too much freedom to make up the short-fall by gouging you, the students, their customers.
In the long term, New Zealand First wants a Zero Fees model for tertiary education - as we used to enjoy up until Tertiary Education Minister Phil Goff abolished it in 1989, and as many successful economies such as those in Scandinavia have today. However, we are also realists who recognise that such a change would be difficult to implement overnight. New Zealand First will re-impose a cap on tertiary fees as a first step and then progressively reduce your fees over a number of years. We will also ensure that this does not harm the quality of your education by once again properly investing in your education and our future from the public purse.

VSM / student control of student services & support
The ACT Party's "Freedom of Association" bill was an ideological solution looking for a problem. Rather than seeking to improve accountability, transparency, and value for money in our student associations, this government has instead decided to indulge in an old far-right game called union-busting. We note with considerable bemusement that implementing this law will neither decrease the fees you pay nor increase your control over how the money is spent. Instead of paying a levy to a democratic student association accountable to you, you'll pay higher fees to your education provider. Prior to the law's passage, New Zealand First would have instead advocated a strengthened opt-out clause. Now that it's passed, we fully expect to see the quality and availability of your services to be reduced. We are further concerned that universities will simply be able to ignore your views on the issue in the absence of effective student associations to represent and advocate on your behalf.

Student representation in institutions’ decision making processes
New Zealand First is deeply concerned about the decline of our student associations and their ability to represent your views. Since the passage of ACT's VSM legislation, the ability for students to make their voices heard has become more crucial than ever so as to ensure that the service you're paying top dollar for is acceptable to you - the customer - and meets your needs. We do not believe it is possible to have a viable university or student culture without an independent student voice. New Zealand First would therefore ensure that - in the absence of fully independent student associations - your university listens to you.

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