Earlier in the year the Prime Minister said the government was going to rein in the student loan scheme “big time”. He refused to say what this specifically meant, but it is clear the government has plans. Having decided that they can’t do what they really want to do in terms of getting rid of the interest free part of the scheme they have made a number of changes to limit eligibility, such as stopping those 55 and over borrowing for the living costs portion of the loan.
But there is more to come. In answer to a written question I put in about reports that the Minister of Tertiary Education had received about changes to student support, came this answer from Steven Joyce.
I have received many reports and briefings regarding future student support arrangements since 1 August 2011, if the Member would care to be more specific I will endeavor to provide a response. However, the Member should note that many of these will relate to future Budget decisions and therefore will not be released prior to Budget day.
So students can expect changes to be announced on Budget Day. Rumours abound as to what the changes will be. I have heard talk of major changes around allowances that would effectively wipe them out in favour of loans. This would be hugely controversial and create major equity issues. Moreover it would have the effect of massively increasing the student loan balance which would seem to be the opposite of the government’s policy objective.
More likely is an implementation of National’s election manifesto statement about student loans that
Ensure students who borrow from the scheme are working towards qualifications that can attract an income that allows them to pay back the loan.
This relates to the already announced plans to publish the salaries of people with particular qualifications. It raises huge concerns. What courses will not be eligible for student loans? What time scale will be used to identify the income? Will other factors will be taken into account to assess the value of a course?
I am all for ensuring that tertiary education plays a major part in providing the skilled workforce that we need. I also think we need to keep a careful eye on the quality of courses, but that is not the same as saying students can only borrow for courses that attract a particular income. The salaries earned by graduates are not the be all and end all of the value of tertiary education. Bob Jones famously once said he would rather employ an arts graduate than a commerce graduate because they had been taught to think.
We need to have a wider view of the value of tertiary educaiton, firstly for the individuals concerned and what they learn, but also for society as a whole of having people who have undertaken a range of courses. We want musicians, designers, artists or whatever it might be that the Minister considers is not earning enough, don’t we? They might not have huge financial benefit, but they are important in a civilised society.
Budget Day could be very interesting, and possibly disturbing ifor students and future students.