The New Zealand Union of Students’ Association (NZUSA) is calling for the implementation of a “Universal Education Income” as part of their COVID-19 Action Plan.
The weekly payment would be available to all full and part time domestic tertiary students. The NZUSA highlights that poverty and student debt are placing pressure on students and that this has been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic and New Zealand’s time at Alert Level 3 and 4.
A petition to Minister of Education Chris Hipkins and Minister of Finance Grant Robertson to institute the universal allowance has amassed over 4,600 signatures. The NZUSA emphasises that the payment “would enable education and training to be a viable option for New Zealanders in the reset of our economy, post COVID-19.”
The NZUSA’s COVID-19 Action Plan has been backed by a number of student organizations across New Zealand, including the Auckland University Students’ Association. In addition to the universal education income, the plan calls for the creation of a COVID-19 hardship fund to cover students’ emergency costs, the inclusion of tertiary students in the Winter Energy package and increased access to mental health support for students.
According to NZUSA president Isabella Lenihan-Ikin, “The Government needs to get real about the financial insecurity students face, and implement urgent measures to support them.”
The NZUSA has previously been highly critical of the government’s first COVID-19 support package, in which the borrowing limit for course related costs was increased to $2000. This allowed students an extra $1000 to cover extra costs related to their courses of study, however this could not be used to cover non-course related costs such as food, rent or power.
The government has since announced an additional $20 million fund to ensure that tertiary students have access to a secure internet connection and device to complete coursework on.
Around the world, some governments have implemented similar measures to those that the NZUSA is calling for. In Canada, eligibility restrictions for financial aid have been largely loosened in light of the pandemic. The move towards a universal income for tertiary students is also included in New Zealand First and the Green party’s policy documents.
At the time of publication the NZUSA has proven the idea has considerable backing, with the petition currently sitting at 4,605 signatures.