A study has found that COVID-19 has impacted the wellbeing, financial situation and educational experiences of New Zealand tertiary students.
The report, COVID-19 and Tertiary Students, was released by the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA), and surveyed more than 400 tertiary domestic and international students at universities, polytechnics and private schools.
It found more than 80 percent of respondents were feeling more anxious about the future, and their stress levels about studying had increased because of the coronavirus. Almost half of the participants said that COVID-19 had made them more worried about their levels of student debt.
One person said study pressures, financial stress and mental health were interconnected.
“I have been having an extremely hard time focusing and finding the motivation to study,
though the thought of it is constantly on my mind.”
“Though I have not been fired from my casual front of house job, I have lost all my hours
through events being cancelled, and was told I couldn’t access the wage subsidy.”
The report also found more than 70 percent of those surveyed are supportive of their institutes’ response, saying their institutions had recognised the impact the COVID-19 had on their studies and did not make it more difficult to study during lockdown.
One participant studying at Auckland University said the university had listened to students’ concerns.
“It was wonderful when AUSA successfully advocated for the 5% lift in GPA – it felt like it was the first time the uni had ever listened to the student voice.”
“I certainly hope they continue to listen to us in this way, with our new VC [Vice-Chancellor], because in the past, whenever we voice our concerns, we’ve been pushed away and the uni has plowed ahead.”
The study also said some students would like to have extra support regarding expenses and more mental health support, including a postgraduate allowance. Others wanted partial fee refunds, 5% grade increases, or more time for their theses.
The report’s author Joshua James said the study highlighted areas that need attention from the government.
“Not only are many students feeling less optimistic about the future, many are struggling with expenses at a higher rate than they were pre-COVID.”
“Any elected official who were to read the many comments provided in the survey should be moved to action.”
NZUSA President Isabella Lenihan-Ikin said the study’s results showed the need for a universal education income, to “afford students the ability to live in dignity and not be forced to borrow to live”.
The government has already established a $20 million fund for students who found themselves “particularly impacted” by COVID-19 in the Budget, and doubled the loan amount available for course-related costs to $2,000 from $1,000 in April.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins had said in June that it was unlikely for an universal education income to be implemented, as the allowance could not be going to those who were most in need, and it would result in a large increase in government expenditure.