Today, Steven Joyce as Tertiary Education Minister announced changes to the student loan and allowances scheme. When I say announced, I mean that he held a media conference at which he told the assembled reporters about the changes. He did not produce any paper, apparently could not offer much in the way of figures to back up his announcement and gave some vague answers. He has finally late this evening released his notes which shed only a little light on proceedings.
This is irresponsible and cynical. Pre-budget announcements are nothing new, I know that, but if you are going to do do them, how about actually giving details about what you are going to do? Student support is one of those areas where the details matter to individual students and their families. Many students live financially fragile lives, and little changes mean a lot. For families trying to support their children and plan their future, announcements like this have significance. Judging by the questions I am getting on email and on Twitter people are confused, and it is no wonder.
The reason it is cynical is that this is about getting the bad news away before the Budget so that on the day Mr Joyce can show how he is putting some more money into research and certain courses. The robbing Peter part of the equation out of the way, it will be time to pay Paul on Budget Day.
As to the substance of the announcement, they are giving all graduates with loans a pay cut by increasing the repayment rate and they are cutting access to allowances, including limiting eligibility to four years. This is significant. This means no allowances for people in later years of studying medicine, engineering, architecture, veterinary science or for post graduate study or double degrees. In short the very things the government says it wants.
There are still loads of questions unanswered about the detail of the announcement (such as what happens to those in the middle of longer degrees, do four years of allowances at any time in the past make you ineligible from next year?) but the overall message is clear; this government simply sees tertiary education more as a cost to be cut than an investment in our collective future.