Scholarship plan mooted to support students

A "game-changing" scheme to encourage students from families new to university education has been put up by the New Zealand Union of Students Associations. Libby Wilson reports. --------------------

Students first in their families to a degree could get fee-free study and extra support if a student representative body's targeted scholarship suggestion goes ahead.

The New Zealand Union of Students' Associations has put forward a 2000-a-year scholarship plan targeted at school leavers and limited to those who qualify for student allowances.

The union expects the plan to cost taxpayers about $54 million a year when fully underway, and the Tertiary Education Union has called it at "game changer".

First-in-family would cover students whose parents and siblings hadn't studied at degree level, New Zealand Union of Students' Associations (NZUSA) president Daniel Haines said.

"We've identified this as a means to target those people who really do need genuine support to make it to the tertiary level," he said.

"Once one person in a family has gone through [degree study] it becomes normal, familiar."

Haines was the first in his family to get a degree and said few of his primary school peers had got to tertiary education.

For many families fear of the cost was the first reaction, he said.

Degree-level study at university and polytechnic would be a requirement of the NZUSA programme, as that better allowed students to "get out of the poverty trap".

NZUSA costings state the first year of the programme would cost $12m in scholarships, which would rise to about $54m by the fourth year as more students came into the programme and completion bonuses began to be paid out.

Haines said that the programme had been presented to and discussed with the tertiary education spokespeople for most political parties, education bodies and policy staff from the Treasury.

The plan was labelled transformative and a "game changer" in a statement from Tertiary Education Union vice-president Sandra Grey.

Labour's spokesperson Maryan Street said it was the "germ of a very good idea" but costings and how best to work the programme needed to be worked through.

The support New Zealand already provided for students was "very generous" by world standards, tertiary education, skills and employment minister Steven Joyce said.

"I appreciate the sentiment of NZUSA's proposals.

"But given the already comprehensive level of support that exists and that we are still recovering from the GFC and the Christchurch earthquakes and are yet to pay back any debt, it's very early to be coming up with new ways to support students."

Taxpayers already paid about 70 per cent of tuition costs for tertiary education and interest-free loans were also available to help students cover the rest, he said.

Waikato Times