Students in financial trouble may breathe a slight sigh of relief after the changes announced in the 2017 Budget, although little help is on the way for those studying in Dunedin. Minister for Finance Steve Joyce announced a $20 per week increase in the accommodation supplement for those on Student Allowance who are experiencing housing hardship.
A total of 41,000 students will be eligible to receive the increased benefit, but only those in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch will receive the full increase. Students in Dunedin are likely to see an increase of $11 a week, which will kick in from April 2018.
While it is a slight help for some students, New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) President Jonathan Gee criticised the move as not going far enough, saying “More than three quarters of students will see no change to their living situation as a result of this Budget. This contrasts with our recommendation in our Budget wishlist, calling for a housing grant for all students”.
There will be no increase in available funds for those on student loan living costs or to the base allowance, currently set at $278 per week. The loan living costs are tied to the Consumer Price Index – a model that measures inflation by calculating the price of consumer goods. Students’ associations have on multiple occasions argued that this should be changed to tie funding to rent costs, which are increasing at a higher rate and take up a larger proportion of the student budget than groceries.
NZUSA policy is to replace the accommodation supplement with a universal housing grant available to all students, not just those on student allowance, especially for students living away from home.
Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Paul Goldsmith said "once interest-free student loans are taken into account” the government already covers over 80 percent of the cost of tertiary education, “As well as that, taxpayers make a contribution to the students' living costs through allowances or student loans. We think that balance is reasonable".