Another year older, and deeper in debt

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Report by NewsroomPlus.com

Did you know the total student debt mountain has mushroomed to nigh on $15 billion? That’s not the kind of Christmas present anyone wants lurking under their tree for years to come… 

In anticipation of the New Year holding more of the same and the millstone/ milestone of $15 billion due to be hit in February, student leaders attending the NZ Union of Students’ Associations Congress gathered on the lawn below Victoria University’s historic Hunter Building on Sunday 13 December.

Wearing symbolic balls and chains around their wrists and ankles – annotated with individual debt – their message was simple.

First and foremost student leaders are fed up with the Government putting its head in the sand over the mounting student debt. They say if the Government can front up on climate change, it can finally face up to the growing debt, noting that since John Key’s National Party rein began student debt has mushroomed from $10 billion to $15 billion.

More information is available from NZUSA – the voice of New Zealand’s 400,000 students

FOUR VOICES FROM FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND … 

DEBT_lineup2

I haven’t felt at all well informed about the rate that my debt has accumulated. I can’t see how I’d now be able to get a home, and with that, I can’t see how I could afford to start a family. 

Sara is a student nurse studying at Waiariki Institute of Technology* This is the second qualification pathway for Sara, after first embarking on a tourism diploma. Sara feels she was penalised by the system after becoming ineligible for an allowance due to withdrawing from a course early – she had no resort then but to take on more debt via the loan scheme. She now expects to graduate as a nurse in 2017, with a debt in the region of $65,000.

* as announced by Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce last week, Waiariki will be merged with Bay of Plenty Polytechnic next year.

I’m at the point now where this was an unseen debt, and now it’s about to have a lifelong impact. I think this debt and its effect on my circumstances will be stuck with me for decades.

Will is carrying a debt level that is equivalent to Sara’s. He has already been a student at the University of Auckland for four years, and to give himself the optimal chance of options for a lifelong career path at a skill level that matches his academic achievements signed up for postgraduate study, with a major in politics. Will is no slouch, and has had financial assistance from scholarships.

Staff at our institution have been as helpful as they could be, but they’re stuck in the middle when it comes to the hoops to jump through and a system that pushes you into more debt.

Virgil has one more full year of study at Waiariki to go and hopes a current debt of around $40,000 isn’t going to balloon out. He’s already resigned to moving out of his home town when he starts his search for a job in the business field of communications and IT. He counts himself lucky that he should be able to earn a living that will help him climb out of debt – slowly but perhaps faster than most, but with the drag effect of a ‘life slowing’ ball and chain.

I’m like most of my peers, I try to focus beyond the debt that is being attached to achieving my qualification and not to dwell on the ‘necessary evil’ description of it and how many years my life will continue to revolve around the money of it. It’s definitely painful and the total student debt amounts are so uncontrollably high you have to wonder how feasible the system is.

Nina has a Bachelor of Arts from Otago University under her belt and one last push on a postgraduate year before her student debt tops out, perhaps as high as $55,000. A contributor to his has, she says, been the year-on-year fee increases. As soon as she can Nina has aspirations to find a job that isn’t about opting for the ‘best paid’ over the ‘best fit’, or settling for work that may not even take her qualification into account. Having faced years of having no other choice but enforced indebtedness, and having IRD letters relentlessly hammer that home (in official mail she resists opening), Nina’s view on the rest of her life is that she’ll be actively seeking to avoid any other form of borrowing.

DEBT_lineup1

These are just four voices of 400,000; a tiny percentage of bare-boned vignettes of four student experiences that all echoed the same sentiment of being on a road that ‘sets you back’ rather than ‘setting you forward’.

A ‘she’ll be right’ attitude prevails. It assumes well-paying jobs for all, and full-time uninterrupted professions will follow years of borrowing to live. It assumes a level of gender equity that doesn’t exist, and smooth transitions through either any one qualifications pathway or career choice, where that is by no means a given – as anyone with life experience below the ‘rich line’ knows.

All of this is a bleak enough proposition for people with parental or intergenerational support, let alone for those who face tougher roads to get to be enrolled for tertiary education in the first place.

There is nothing progressive in an economy or society that indentures students to a muted future.

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Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues. Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia's FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand's The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.

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