The policies from the 2017 general election brought a small shitload of promises that would directly affect, and hopefully, benefit students. However, other than everyone losing the plot when first-year became “Fees-Free” – it doesn’t seem as if a whole lot has changed. We tracked down local MPs David Bennett (National) and Jamie Strange (Labour) to see if the Government has managed to keep their promises while delving into what they’ve done right, and what they’ve completely fucked.
The objective was to make tertiary education affordable for all, regardless of academic ability, or financial standing. This included Fees-Free, giving postgraduate students eligibility for student allowances, and providing a $50 increase to living costs and allowances.
DB: They’ve followed through on their policy but we haven’t seen an increase in student numbers… it hasn’t increased the amount of students going to university, and it hasn’t diversified the backgrounds of students… Every payment you make around education, in whatever form you do it, is part of that education budget. It takes away the ability to give money to the institutions and that’s the issue. That’s the tradeoff that students will now face, they’ll be getting more money in hand but potentially won’t be getting the investment into their degrees that they will actually need for the long term.
JS: ...I believe we have stuck to our promise and we have delivered on it. I also believe it’s made a positive difference. I’ve had a number of people contacting me, thanking me for the opportunity to study… One of the big focusses was people in their 30s, 40s, 50s who’re on minimum wage working hard to support their family and who would like to better themselves in terms of social mobility. We expect more people to start studying over the next few years as the policy fully rolls out… New Zealand will certainly benefit, the more people we have educated the better it is in all areas of society.
This was labelled as a priority, and with our country carrying some of the highest youth suicide rates in the developed world, it’s rightfully so. How much have they done to remedy the situation?
DB: ...We had funded $100,000,000 in mental health programmes, they haven’t followed through with that. It’s a patchwork of programmes, if anything, that they’re talking about doing and we don’t see any consistency there. They’re really floundering in mental health.
JS: We don’t just want to come in and spend money, the first thing around mental health is to find out what the issues are and how they can be reduced. We’ve started a review of mental health... this is due to be completed by the end of October 2018. It is quite a long review but it’s one we’re absolutely committed to getting right.
They’ve already banned letting fees, now they’ve planned to limit rent increases, abolish “no-cause” terminations of tenancies, and are looking to provide grants to upgrade insulation and heating. But has this had any benefit?
DB: They’ve made a lot of effort in that area, and some of it, we have started and they’ve continued with it, but they’ve taken it to another level and what you’ve actually seen is rents go up. That’s the effect if you put all these rules on the landlord [who] has to meet the cost of that, they’re only going to charge the tenants for that cost, so that $50 a week that students may have been getting for their accommodation is going straight out in rent, l due to the increased costs the Government has put on the landlords.
JS: These haven’t all come into law yet, but basically, we’ve started the discussion around that. Those discussions and the feedback we get from the public will inform the policy… this is like to come into effect before mid-2020… It’s important to have an aspect of fairness in the rental market as there is a power balance between landlords and renters, we’re basically looking to ensure we’ve got that balance right.
There’s really nothing of value for students here. One side believes our degrees are decreasing in value, and the other side believes they’re doing a great job because they’ve had a few phone calls thanking them. It won’t be until at least 2020 when the next generation of students start feeling the benefits—of detriment—of the coalition government. Fuck it, at least we’re getting an extra $50 a week, right?