AN OPEN LETTER TO HELEN CLARK
6 December 1999
The Rt Hon Helen Clark
Dear Ms Clark,
On behalf of the New Zealand University Students' Association, please accept our congratulations on your election
victory. We look forward to an education-friendly Government, and to working with you and your Ministers.
As you are no doubt aware, tertiary education has become a necessity of modern life. As Lord Dearing noted, "to maintain
a cohesive and a rich culture, we must invest in education, to develop our greatest resource, our people." Yet over the
past nine years, we have seen both per-student funding and student living support cut to the bone. It now costs over
$14,000 a year to be a student. These costs keep rising, but the ability of students to keep pace with them hasn't.
According to our Income and Expenditure Survey, average student incomes have dropped over the past two years. The
results are very grim; student debt is growing beyond control, and is unlikely to stop growing within the next thirty
years, unless something is done urgently.
We therefore ask that you and your Ministers give urgent consideration to the following initiatives:
Urgently lift the restrictions on students receiving the unemployment benefit (now known as the Community Wage -
Student) this summer. The decision to deny the Community Wage to those students who didn't receive a Student Allowance
defied reason and humanity, and causes intense hardship for students over the summer break.
Remove interest on Student Loans. It can take many borrowers years of repayment before they actually begin to reduce
the size of their Loan. The interest rates serve only to demoralise students and extend repayment times.
Increase public funding for tertiary education, and reduce fees. This year saw some of the most horrendous fee
increases in the history of tertiary education. Some Canterbury University students are facing fees 33% higher than in
1999. It is absolutely imperative that action is taken to reduce these costs, and to make education accessible to all.
Move quickly towards universal living allowances, and restore the Training Incentive Allowance for beneficiaries. Only
better living support policies can stop the growth of Student Loan debt, and ensure equal access to tertiary education.
Get tough on poor quality providers. Only quality education is worth public investment. Yet the previous Government
opened the funding doors to a wide range of tertiary providers and courses, without checking whether what they were any
good. Neither students nor the country can afford the sort of legal battles over quality we have seen over the past
Above all, please ensure that WINZ has the capacity and systems in place to run Student Loans and Allowances properly
next year. While WINZ has apologised for the Student Allowance debacles this year, we can not afford to see this
situation repeated. You can't pay for food and rent with an apology.
When the public of New Zealand voted for a change of Government, they voted for a fresh approach to politics and
policies. We hope that you will take up the challenge the voters have delivered, and restore a quality, accessible
NZUSA Co-Presidents 2000