In Labour’s tertiary education policy announced by David Shearer earlier this week was a small, but very important commitment from Labour. If elected to government we will restore the Refugee Study Grant. This grant was canned by the National Government in the 2009 Budget with effect from this year. When I was Tertiary Education Spokesperson for a while I met several people who had greatly benefited from the grant, and I am so pleased that we have committed to restoring it.
What the grant has provided is support for refugees mainly for bridging courses or other courses to meet pre-requisites. While as permanent residents refugees can access student loans, many need support to get to the level to be able to undertake tertiary study. Not having the support can mean that opportunities are missed and refugees dont get the kick start that can allow them to achieve their potential.
Mohammed Amri is one example. He was one of the Tampa boat boys. A bright guy, but with little experience of English or learning in a New Zealand environment, who took language, reading and writing skill courses that got him his start on the way to a degree. Another example is a young woman I met, who’s story is included in the publication by Changemakers Refugee Forum as part of their campaign to see refugees recognised as an equity group. She was 19 and still at school here trying to catch up with her peers. She did well, but was not ready to do tertiary study. She was losing motivation for school, doing long hours working at a supermarket, acting as an interpreter for her family, and wanted to get on with her life. She accessed the refugee study grant, got the support to lift her literacy skills, understand the pecularities of New Zealand langauge, and gain entry to a degree at Victoria University. She’s doing really well.
All of this came from a fund that used about $1.3 million a year. In the grand scheme of the Budget, not that much. But it was a lower priority for National in that particular Budget than extra funding for private schools. I am really proud that Labour is saying we will give some extra support to people who have had to flee their homes, who have endured hardship, so that they may achieve their potential, have a fair go at owning their future, and fully contribute to our society. Its the right thing to do.