Students have had a hard time over summer. I arrived in Hamilton to look for somewhere to live in November of 2012, and while I’d sussed out some empty flats to look at via Trade-Me, nothing prepared me for the state of the place when I got here – whole suburbs were ghost towns of empty student flats, and all I saw on campus when inquiring about post-grad papers were International students doing bridging courses over summer.



Eventually it sank into my stressed-out brain that there were no students here ‘cos they’d all gone home to parents, some of them for jobs but mostly for the free room and board.



Then Studylink announces its new parameters, and suddenly a bunch of previously capable and successful students (postgraduates) were persona-non-grata for study support, and indeed, enrollment in a New Zealand University. This is probably the greatest shift in student allowance availability since the Student Loans Act was passed in 1992. 
Cue tickets to Australia, and a windfall for Monash and its ilk. 
Knowledge Economy, it isn’t.



What are the current batch of undergrad’s supposed to make of this? 
How confident are you, handing in assignments, going to tutorials, aiming for the ‘A’ grade, when suddenly those who were your tutors last year have been told ‘don’t come back’, unless they have no need for student allowances or student loans to cover study costs.



Someone needs to tell the Minister of Education, the Hon Hekia Parata, that this is an unreasonable way to treat those of our student community who have actual proven track record as successful students – after all, post-grad is not a forgone conclusion, it’s something some of us agonise over for a year after completing Hons; and some even go out into the workforce for a few years before returning with enough experience of life to really value our university opportunities. E-mail her here hekia.parata@parliament.govt.nz



What-the-Hekia, this is the longest Recession since the Great Depression of the 1930’s, this is actually the very economic situation that our social welfare ‘safety net’ was designed for – when global conditions go sour, NZ has very little resiliency, due to our over-exposure to export earnings. 



There were no jobs going for the one in four maaori or pasifika students without jobs this summer; and the jobless rate wasn’t much brighter for our ‘cream of the crop’ high achievers, either. 


The net unemployment rate for 15-19-year-olds in the year to December was 30.9% [that’s just under 1 in 3 of the cohort ‘not in employment, education or training’ (NEET)] and for the 20-25-year-old bracket, it’s 18.5% [over 1 in 6 NEET]. 
These are people who can’t get a student loan, entry to a course nearby, or a job. 
They’re the people who aren’t here on campus with you this year, out of the kids you might have known at secondary school.

I tried to get figures from SJS and Winz on student hardship unemployment uptake over summer, but had no replies.
This was going to be an article for Nexus, the student paper at Uni of Waikato, but they seem to have lost possession of their testicles and couldn’t find it in their teeny shrivelled hearts to criticise Hekia Parata, a former WSU President, so here it is on my blog.

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On Friday, which was Mayday, I went to a cheery Campaign launch in Wellington for the latest Unite! minimum wage increase call – to raise the minimum to $15/hour.

We gathered at the Southern Cross in Abel Smith St, to be welcomed by Don Franks MC-ing, and a warm-up performance by the Union Choir, who sang stirringly and melodically.

Union Choir at Unite! Campaign launch

Union Choir at Unite! Campaign launch

There were a few more speeches after the intro, then a time of social chitchat and networking was enjoyed by all.

Details of the new campaign can be found at Unite! website.

Despite the rainy night and the presence of a significant crowd in the Bar on campus, a good turnout showed to the panel discussion organised by Vuwsa and NZUSA on the topic of “The importance of students being collectively organised when the global economy carks it”.

Sue B, Peter Conway, Andrew Little speaking, Jordan King, MC.

Sue B, Peter Conway, Andrew Little speaking, Jordan King, MC.

The panel comprised Jordan King of NZUSA, MC-ing, with Sue Bradford MP, Green party spokesperson on employment and union issues; Andrew Little, President of the Labour Party and National Secretary of the EPMU; and Peter Conway, Secretary of the CTU.

Each speaker in turn gave some insights into their years as students – Sue in the 60’s & early 70’s at Auckland Uni, then again in the 80’s doing her MA, was involved in some of the great student activism efforts, against Vietnam War, Springbok Tours, and Anti-nuclear demos; Andrew and Peter were both at VUW, Andrew as President of Vuwsa for some of his time, Peter admitting to involvement in campus Folk Music and Communist clubs (…a heady combination!)

All three stressed the changes they’d seen, for the worse, in the amount of time students have to engage in clubs and politics on campus, due to the onerous requirements of work necessary to keep fed and housed, since the removal of universal student bursaries when the student loan scheme came into force in the early 90’s.

There was a lot of general discussion about the impact of the recession – which Sue B likened to a ‘phony war’ over the last 18 months to two years – which may this year begin to be felt by students, as job retrenchment begins to hit families who have been supporting their children at university, and as part-time positions dry up in the workplaces traditionally supplying casualised jobs to students.

Whereas factories and industrial sites have been gradually laying off workers as demand for consumption has eased over the past year, which has seen many unions negotiating better terms for staff, student jobs haven’t been as much affected yet; although the VC’s committees and TEC have been bracing for a roll-on effect as redundant employees register for tertiary education, to make the best of a shrinking job market by taking the opportunity to upskill during the downturn – a pattern of behaviour that is repeating the experiences of workers made redundant around the time of the ‘87 crash; to which there are many parallels in the current recessionary period.

All of the speakers stressed that the Government needs to be made accountable for the quality of the decisions that are being made around where ‘recession relief’ spending is to be done, and questioning whether big ticket projects such as roading or buildings should be balanced by investment in upskilling workers via tertiary institution funding, with suggestions that 2009 may be our “Winter of Discontent”.

A short but lively discussion concluded the evening, which carried on for about half an hour longer than the event had been advertised, resulting in some time-pressed individuals leaving during the question time.

Le Matt Juste

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