A Universal Education Income is being proposed by student groups to ensure all domestic students have sufficient funds to cover their living costs.
New Zealand Union of Students’ Association (NZUSA) sent an open letter on Wednesday 15th September to the Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins. 49 student councils, associations and organisations signed the letter detailing what student needs have not been met by the Government from their initial National Student Action Plan on COVID-19. The letter called for Hipkins to introduce a Universal Education Income (UEI) to give further support to students during COVID-19.
A UEI is a weekly income that would be available to all domestic students, regardless of age or type of study, as a temporary measure for students to have full financial support for their living costs. The income would include postgraduate students, students with casual jobs, or students whose wages are cut are included, which are groups that often get forgotten. The letter states “It is the only way to ensure that no student is left behind”.
The proposed UEI will work alongside the COVID-19 Student Hardship Fund, which saw an additional $20 million be added earlier this month. According to Hipkins, an estimated 15,000 extra students will be helped by this extra funding. Hardship funds are provided by tertiary providers and are available for students who experience unexpected financial difficulty that affects their studies.
Students have expressed concern that the Hardship Funds are not enough to sustain them, and are hard to obtain. University of Auckland student, Lily*, told Craccum that they had a negative experience seeking support from the University. “You’ve essentially got to be in the worst possible situation financially before you can even apply to be considered. You’re running on empty until they get back to you, and even then, I couldn’t get it. It’s horrible and embarrassing to know even at your worst it’s not enough to get help.”
A regular student allowance provided by Studylink can also be difficult to acquire, and COVID-19 can put pressure on students struggling without any form of income and without job security. Brooklyn, a student at Auckland University of Technology, says that a UEI could be incredibly helpful to students who can’t work during lockdown, as a regular allowance is insufficient to live off without work, and is hard to get. “I know people in the same situation as me who have been denied [a student allowance] and it’s ridiculous. It should be more inclusive and for everyone who studies”.
Outside of Auckland, where students have spent less time in lockdown, the effects have still been felt financially and would find personal benefits in the UEI being implemented. Victoria University of Wellington student, Aylana, says that students who live away from home don’t have a “safety net” that many live-at-home students have. “Studying full time and also having to work is extremely draining and detrimental to people’s mental health. If the Government was concerned about the wellbeing of our youth they would be quickly implementing easier, more accessible allowances”.
NZUSA’s letter also asks for mental health support to be increased for tertiary students and young people during this time of uncertainty and isolation. It further acknowledges the work and effort that the government has put into supporting students during this crisis and the increase to the Hardship Funds, but is striving for all students to have access to adequate support. “A revolutionary moment in the world’s history is time for a revolution, not for patching”.
*Name was changed per anonymity request