Open letter: The New Zealand government does not care about students

By Sara Youssef, AUT student president


As the student president at AUT, do I think the government, who are supposed to be ‘by the people, for the people’, care about students, the future of Aotearoa? Absolutely not!


We are dying for your help. How dare you neglect us - our wellbeings, our futures? I am incredibly concerned about students’ wellbeing and living conditions, which ultimately impact their academic performance. Two-thirds of us are living in poverty, struggling to get by, cannot afford rent, food, bills, clothing and other necessities. Some of us have to skip class because we can’t afford transport. You say you care about minorities, but guess what? Māori, Pasifika and disabled make up the majority of students living in poverty.


The current funding system is insufficient because the government provides funding for every ‘equivalent full-time student’, regardless of their background. It does not take into account whether a student is struggling with their mental health, has a disability, is the first in their family to study, came from a decile one school, or has nowhere to live. The government gives the exact same funding to someone who is wealthy, comes from a decile 10 school or owns five rental properties. Bear in mind, international students are not even in this model. It is obvious they do not care about us.


Do not even get me started on student associations. Our funding is being held hostage by universities and can be cut at their discretion, due to the 2011 legislation which made student association membership voluntary. Our primary source of income is threatened - and by default, so is our capacity to represent students. This will inevitably cause the student's voice to deteriorate over time.


You, the government, introduced Code of Pastoral Care to support student wellbeing, yet you're unable to meet your own policy. What a joke. If you say you care about the future, invest in us! Give us what we need: affordable healthy homes, increased student allowances, free public transport and rent controls. Give us back our voice! Bring back the universal student allowance. Show us your commitments and obligations that do not currently exist in a meaningful way. And to the Minister of Education Chris Hipkins, the government and MPs: why do you not care? It’s time to keep your word and stop giving us broken promises.