Green Tertiary spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick has teamed up with student unions across the country to launch a People's Inquiry into Student Wellbeing. The collaboration is led by New Zealand Union of Students' Associations (NZUSA), Te Mana Ākonga, Tauira Pasifika and the National Disabled Students’ Association among 33 student unions.
“Education is a passport. It’s the ticket to exploring our world and our histories, to growing and challenging our ideas, to navigating global pandemics and solving climate change,” says Chlöe Swarbrick.
“Forty years ago, tertiary education was free. Student debt now chases New Zealanders across the country and the world for decades, to the tune of $16 billion. This was a political choice.
“Even worse, studying is undermined by astronomical rents and inaccessible support, meaning many trade off their health and grades. This isn’t the pathway out of poverty it’s sold as; for many, it is literally working and studying poverty.
“Time and again we’ve fought with Student Unions across Aotearoa for better student conditions. That’s resulted in the Pastoral Care Code introduced this year, following our Student Accommodation Inquiry in 2020. Yet, piecemeal, invasive and inaccessible ‘Hardship Funds’ supposedly supporting students through COVID showed, the Government doesn’t take students seriously. We won’t take that any longer.
“Today we’re launching one of the largest ever collaborations of Student Unions across the country, asking students to raise their voices and be counted. While politicians have spent decades gutting student advocacy and support, today we’re taking the power back.
“That starts with irrefutable data. Not the kind of stuff StudyLink will keep you on hold for, but a solid understanding of who students across this country are, their experiences and their bottom lines.
“It’s time to reset the terms of the debate. Poverty isn’t a rite of passage. It’s a political decision,” Swarbrick says.
Student unions say inquiry is a ‘great opportunity’
Andrew Lessells, National President of the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations, says: “The Government is completely disconnected from the lives of our 400,000 students across Aotearoa.
“These students have lost jobs because of Covid, are taking on crippling debt just to keep a roof over their heads and the most the Minister can do is offer a few thousand of them a miserly $25 a week in extra allowance.
“We need a genuine effort to understand the issues our students are facing and we need a Minister that is prepared to listen to the voices crying out for help, fairness and change,” Andrew Lessells says.
Kyla Campbell-Kamariera, from Te Mana Ākonga Tumuaki, says: “I believe this inquiry will be a great opportunity to collect data that highlights the diverse realities of tauira Māori across the country.
“To litigate student wellbeing experiences over and over again with no meaningful transformation is getting tiring and boring. We’re ready to see some change,” says Kyla Campbell-Kamariera.
Alice Mander, Co-President of the National Disabled Students’ Association, says: “It's time that disabled students are part of the conversation, and supports offered for students are cognisant of the extra equity needs our tauira have.
“We know that disabled students face material hardship at greater rates than non-disabled students, and also face inequities and barriers in the tertiary education system itself. The support is simply not there for our students,” says Alice Mander.