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Letters from the Prime Minister – Issue 2

Kia ora and welcome back to Waikato, my old university! 

Last year was a tough one, and as we head into 2021, I want to start by saying thanks. This month,

unlike many students overseas, you’re able to return to campus, take part in O-week events, and

study together with friends. None of this would have been possible without all your hard work through

2020. Whether it was adapting to online learning, celebrating birthdays on Zoom, or in some cases,

working shifts as an essential worker, thank you for everything you did to help us keep COVID at bay.

It’s been a while now since I was at university, but I still remember my first O-week at Waikato. Things

were a little different back then (we had a bar called the Wailing Bongo on campus, and dial up

internet for starters) but I’m sure you’ll experience the same mixture of excitement, nerves and just a

bit of anxiety about what the next year will bring or perhaps what the next ten will bring. I know all too

well that when you’re at the beginning of your time at university. It’s hard not to think about the ‘What

next?’. 

In 1999, when I embarked on my first year of study, uni fees felt like a massive barrier, not to mention

the cost of accommodation, books – life. Because of that, I made choices. I chose a degree

programme that I wasn’t necessarily passionate about, but I thought would get me a job. I chose to

live at home. I chose to work as much as I could as a checkout operator and a job trainer for young

people with intellectual disabilities. And I chose all of these things to try my best to avoid debt. 

I know I was lucky. Many students don’t have those choices. But we’ve equally done as much as we

can as a Labour Party to make study more affordable. First, we took interest off loans while students

were studying. Then, we took interest off altogether. And finally, in 2018, we made the first year of

study free, and increased student allowances.

I know there are still huge sacrifices our students make as they further their education, but I hope the

things we have done have eased the path a little, and created a little more space for you to make the

choices that work for you, now and in the future.

Good luck for the rest of the year, enjoy yourselves and remember – graduation is not that far away!