Earlier this month, Finance Minister Grant Robertson revealed the 2021 budget. Key priorities outlined in the budget include protecting Aotearoa against COVID-19, stimulating COVID-19 recovery and addressing issues of importance to Aotearoa’s future. These are all aspirational goals, and a number of reforms were announced to work towards these, but what does the budget announcement actually mean for students?
One of the key wins for students included increasing the maximum amount students can receive in allowances or living costs by $25. Currently, students are able to receive or borrow up to $242.53 per week. The increase will come into effect next April, meaning students will be able to access up to roughly $268 per week. However, some groups have already questioned whether welfare increases, including the increases for students, will be enough to keep up with rising living costs.
Tamara, a first year student at the University of Waikato, says the increase means she will be able to borrow enough living costs to pay all of her bills, but is unsure whether it’s enough to live off in other cities. “In Hamilton, rent is a lot cheaper. I have friends in Auckland paying up to $300 a week for a room and I’m not sure if this increase is going to help much to ease that burden,” Tamara says. “It’s great that there’s an increase at all, but it’s so expensive to live that students are having to work and study to pay for the costs of living which is not ideal.”
The 2021 budget also included a large increase in funding for vocational education and training, with $279.5 million going to vocational educational organisations. $150 million will go to Māori education and training, with $44 million of this going to Wānanga over the next three years. Additionally, the training incentive allowance has been re-introduced, providing support for those undertaking employment-related training.
Student groups have highlighted that other areas important to students have been overlooked in the budget. Student allowances have still not been reinstated for postgraduate students, a promise that was made before the 2017 election but rescinded last year, with Education Minister Chris Hipkins attributing the decision to the financial pressures of COVID-19.
“The reintroduction of the Training Incentive Allowance and $25 increases to Student Allowances from 2022 will benefit thousands of learners. However, postgraduate and mature students are yet again forgotten while they are forced to live on food parcels and charity,” says the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations. “The increase to vocational education funding is welcomed, and NZUSA has campaigned for this [over] many years. However, universities, while still seeing significant growth in student numbers, see no increase in funding or support.”
The Tertiary Education Union (TEU) also highlighted the lack of funding for universities in the latest budget. “We have told successive governments that the system is stretched beyond breaking point for decades, yet still they stretch us further. Students and staff in the university sector need relief from the constant pressure created by under-resourcing, understaffing and managerialism if they are to improve their wellbeing,” says TEU Tumu Whakarae/National President Tina Smith.
Other key areas the budget has targeted include welfare increases, investment in infrastructure, increased PHARMAC funding and the establishment of an independent Māori Health Authority, $1.5 billion for the COVID-19 Vaccine and Immunisation Programme, and investment in support of climate change mitigation.