Education Minister Chris Hipkins said there are no plans to waive student debt or implement a universal education income in addition to the Budget’s spending on tertiary students.
The government’s budget, titled Rebuilding Together, set up a $50 billion Response and Recovery Fund and extended the Wage Subsidy Scheme for businesses most affected COVID-19.
It also established a $20 million fund for students who have found themselves “particularly impacted” by COVID-19. The government has said the fund will be distributed by tertiary education providers and it can be implemented easily, and that the fund “gets money into the hands of students who need it quickly.”
This follows a student support package announced mid-April, increasing the student loan amount available for course-related costs for full-time students from $1,000 to $2,000, and a $20 million fund revealed early May to help make technology and internet access available for affected tertiary students.
The budget also set up a $1.6 billion Trades and Apprenticeships Package to retrain those who may have lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19, including $334 million for additional tertiary education enrolments and $320 million to make targeted vocational training courses free for all ages.
Speaking to 95bFM’s The Wire, Mr. Hipkins said the government is not in a financial position to waive student debt for new graduates or justify introducing an universal education income for current students.
“I think a universal student allowance would result in a large increase in government expenditure and it won’t be necessarily going to those who are most in need.”
“Generally people with tertiary qualifications tend to have better employment outcomes.”
“Our message to tertiary students is the better you build up your qualifications base, the better your employment outcomes are likely to be.”
“We have financial support for people unable to find employment, including recent graduates.”
However, he said the government has already put in a lot of support for tertiary students.
“We do put a lot of money every year into tertiary students support including loans and allowances, and there is already heavy government subsidies in that area.”
“I do acknowledge that tertiary students do find themselves, in some cases, in a tight spot, but that’s reflective of what a lot of people are experiencing at the moment.”
“We are always looking at how we can do more.”
He also said Labour’s promise of restoring postgraduate students’ eligibility for student allowance at the last election was something that the government planned to do but priorities have changed.
“Some of the priorities associated with that have needed to change as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. We know there are a lot of people who are in financial difficulty at the moment so they have to be our number one priority.”
“It still remains something that the government would like to do, but that is going to take some time.”
New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) President Isabella Lenihan-Ikin said after the Budget announcement that the government took a “band-aid approach” towards addressing student hardship.
Mr. Hipkins rejected the comment.
“I think there is no question that the current Budget was put together under very difficult circumstances.”
“We have got an economy that’s experiencing some real turbulence and we do need to be able to put money into where it’s most needed in order to get things back on track.”
“It’s pretty tough going out there at the moment.”