An Otago student who is recovering from stage four cancer has not received living costs all year because Studylink declined his application for limited full-time status.
“I have a bit of savings but I’m chewing through that quickly,” said Bradley Jackson. He studies sports management with a minor in criminology as a part-time student. Not receiving living costs (weekly payments of about $240) means that expenses like rent and groceries come out of his own pocket.
Normally, only full-time students receive living costs from Studylink. But part-time students who cannot study full-time, for reasons such as disability or illness, can also receive living costs by applying for limited full-time status.
Bradley was diagnosed with stage four cancer in his tongue, neck, and lymph nodes halfway through last year. Chemotherapy and radiation during semester two meant he could not study, but he went back to uni this year after the cancer went into remission. He said “it’s essential for my well being to study and keep going, to get that normality back into my daily routine”.
To apply for limited full-time status in 2021, he provided Studylink with information from his oncologist and the University’s Disability Support Services. The information confirmed that he was still recovering from cancer and unable to study full-time because of concentration issues and fatigue. He sent MSD this application on 11 November.
“Some mornings I just have to stay in bed until like one o’clock because I can’t get out of bed. So that kind of toll is challenging,” Bradley said.
This month, Studylink told Bradley in a phone call that his application for limited full-time study was “unjustifiable”, which Bradley described as “nuts”. “Your perspective changes when you go through something like cancer,” he said. “Then you try to get Studylink and you put their decision into this context and it’s pretty wrong.”
George van Ooyen from Client Service Support at MSD said that Bradley's first application for limited full-time status was declined because "there was nothing in the evidence supplied to support part-time study" and also that there was "a lack of supporting evience". He said that when MSD called Bradley to explain, "he did not at that time indicate he was still unwell or had any further on going health concerns."
A letter sent to Bradley from Studylink said: “Your application for Limited full-time status has been declined because as per our phone conversation your illness is not the reason you are studying part-time.” After receiving that letter two weeks ago, Bradley sent off another application with more supporting evidence on 23 March. Studylink told him that the extra information was “not really needed”, he said, but he wanted to make his application “persuasive”.
“I know that it shouldn’t take up this much of my focus and attention, but it just pisses me off,” he said.
Bradley’s second application for limited full-time study was accepted the day after Critic contacted Studylink for comment on his case. He said he thinks the attention “made them process it much quicker since they wouldn’t have wanted the bad publicity”.
“They said that supplying more evidence made it more justifiable, even though they told me that they didn’t need medical notes or certificates explaining why,” Bradley said. “Last time I sent the application it took over a month for me to get a response, but this time it was just over a week, and if you guys hadn’t helped then I would assume it would’ve taken much longer again.”
"We wish him well for his studies and his ongoing recovery," said George van Ooyen from MSD.
“This process was worse than the cancer. The whole cancer was fine, I just knew that it would be temporary,” Bradley said. “But Studylink is forever.”
The whole ordeal with cancer didn’t faze him, but now Bradley just wants to be able to study as normal. “My whole attitude towards cancer is that if I can be positive, that will run off onto everyone around me, and then they won’t see it as bad,” he said. “As weird as it sounds, cancer was on the bucket list, and I’ve checked that one off.”