The New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) has announced plans to march on Parliament on April 11th to present a petition to reinstate postgraduate student allowance.
Postgraduate student allowance was a weekly stipend which assisted postgraduate students (those studying above a bachelor’s degree at a university or polytechnic) with their living costs while they studied. The allowance was disposed of by the National government in 2013. Then-Tertiary Minister Steven Joyce said the cut was made to ensure first-time and low-income students could continue to receive their allowances, and to reduce government expenditure on education-related subsidies. Labour, along with the Greens and New Zealand First, pledged to restore the postgraduate allowance as part of their 2017 General Election campaign.
NZUSA want to ensure Labour follows-through on their promise. “Restoring the postgraduate allowance isn’t just good for students, it’s good for the country,” says NZUSA President James Ranstead, “Across Aotearoa, postgraduate students are studying in fields that are crucial to our country’s future – climate change, freshwater, poverty and mental health. The current government is committed to solving these issues, however in order for this work to succeed, we urgently need to be supporting and empowering our people to gain skills in these areas. A postgraduate student allowance is an easy step towards making this a reality”.
NZUSA began a petition on the Postgraduate Student Allowance in early 2018. At time of writing, the petition has approximately 2,900 signatures. The organisation says they have been contacted by several students and student representatives across the country: in a press release given to Craccum, NZUSA quotes University of Waikato student Nicole as saying “I’m passionate about reducing New Zealand’s horrific suicide rate through studying towards a career in psychology. Unfortunately due to the lack of financial support at postgraduate level I’ve had to put that dream on hold”. The press release also includes a statement from the Otago University Postgraduate association. “Postgraduate students are burdened with heavy workloads yet receive little financial support,” they say, “Having to work twenty or more hours a week in a part-time job to make ends meet takes a strain on important research, research that ultimately provides benefit to society as a whole”.
Alongside the improvement of support for researchers in crucial fields and a government showing accountability, NZUSA believe the reinstatement of the allowance would also make higher education more fair. “Fairness is important to all of us. We need a fair and equitable student support system across all course types, from certificate level right through to a PhD. Education should be upheld as a way of reducing inequality, however the lack of a Postgraduate student allowance stifles student opportunity” says Ranstead.
NZUSA says they will present the petition on parliament lawn to Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick at around midday, and will later speak at select committee.