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
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!