Helen Clark indicates her sympathies for Cannabis Law Reform while speaking to students at Otago University, 13 October, 2008
Promise goes down a treat
Tue, 14 Oct 2008
By Sam Stevens
Student leaders loved it but some among the 1000-strong audience at the University of Otago yesterday were not sold on Prime Minister Helen Clark's announcement that parental means testing for student allowances would be phased out by 2012.
Some climbed through windows, all braved the heat, and whether they agreed or disagreed, Miss Clark's announcement of the $210 million scheme created plenty of discussion.
Otago University Students Association president Simon Wilson said the announcement showed "Labour had been listening to students' concerns".
"Currently, only about a third of students receive an allowance and the remaining two-thirds are forced to borrow to live.
"Means testing of parental income was always a ridiculous way to judge whether a student needed an allowance. It's great to see the end is in sight. Across the country, students are celebrating the end of this backwards system."
Otago Polytechnic Students Association co-president Ryan Ward (21) said it was in keeping with Labour's "consistent approach" to tertiary education funding.
"They've been pretty solid for students for the last nine years and they will probably get my vote because of that. If more students get the allowance they might not borrow as much."
Mr Ward believed National had not outlined education policies as clearly as the Government.
Many students were concerned a change of government would lead to "more of a user-pays situation", he said.
Accounting and management student Sam Grayling (20) had reservations.
"It could make it easier to do nothing, and there's already plenty of people doing that."
He did not think changes to allowance eligibility related to means testing would improve the financial situation of many students he knew.
Law student Emily Shelton-Agar (22) said it was a "really good policy" which would influence her vote.
A promise from Government to cap fees or only see them increase in line with inflation may attracted more student votes.
However, she was not convinced a universal student allowance scheme was practical, or necessary.
"Some people have enough money to get through a degree with help from parents or by working. I'm not sure there should be a universal allowance," she said.
She was unsure of National's plans for tertiary education.
Law and psychology student Thomas Clark (22) questioned the impact of policy announced yesterday.
"The problem is people always vote according to self-interest so it won't change things for people finishing [study] this year. I still wouldn't be eligible for an allowance, and many students might think 'is it too little, too late?'."
The scheme would have less impact than when interest-free loans for people living in New Zealand were announced in 2006.
"I think they are right to be cautious with international finance the way it is. If there is going to be a universal student allowance it would definitely have to be phased in over time."
Most students approached said they would vote next month.
During a question and answer session following her speech, Miss Clark's comments on the need for "informed debate" on cannabis laws and the Government's continued commitment not to send troops to Iraq drew the biggest response from the more than 1000 people who packed the University of Otago Union common room.