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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

Question No. 5—Education

5. CHLÖE SWARBRICK (Green) to the Minister of Education: Does the Government consider that supporting students and the tertiary education sector is an important part of the response to COVID-19?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): Yes. That’s why the Government moved quickly, as a first step, to double course-related costs to $2,000 for students to draw down support themselves, as that was the quickest way that we could get additional funding to them. We also moved to ensure that they continue to receive the same level of support over an eight-week study break to buffer any disruption that may be caused by COVID-19. We provided tertiary education organisations with a guarantee that their 2020 funding will not be impacted by any loss of domestic students as a result of COVID-19. That ensures that $2 billion in committed Vote Tertiary Education funding will continue to be paid. Tertiary education providers are one of the few sectors that have guaranteed funding during the disruption caused by COVID-19. There are also likely to be increases in enrolments later this year and in 2021 as a result of the economic effects of COVID-19.

Chlöe Swarbrick: Is the Minister concerned, then, that some tertiary education institutes are charging rent for accommodation that students are not able to live in?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes, I am concerned about that, and it is quite a complex situation. In some cases, those accommodation providers are the universities themselves, the tertiary providers themselves. In other cases, they’re third-party providers that are contracted to the universities, and then in other cases, they’re entirely private operations. So it’s quite a complex set of arrangements. The living arrangements themselves are also different. For example, in some cases, students are renting a room in a hostel or a hall of residence. In other cases, they might be renting a room in an apartment. So it’s quite a complex sector. Some of the providers there are accessing the wage subsidy and continuing to charge students their full room rent during that time, which I find utterly unacceptable.

Chlöe Swarbrick: Does he think that more financial support should be provided for students so that they do not need to take on more debt to support themselves through COVID-19?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The Government is looking at ways that we can provide additional support to students, and we’re also asking tertiary providers to also be looking at ways that they can support their student communities through this crisis. As new opportunities arise to increase financial support, I’ll continue to push for those.

Chlöe Swarbrick: Speaking to new opportunities, does he support the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations’ call for a universal student allowance?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Whilst some members on this side of the House have argued over quite a long period of time for things like a universal student allowance, in the current climate, it is really important that we channel additional financial support to the people who need it most in these economic times. So that’s where the Government’s priority is at this point.

Chlöe Swarbrick: Will, then, the Government invest more in the tertiary education sector, and in student support, as part of its response to COVID-19, given the importance of training and education in allowing people to take on new career and job opportunities?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: There is a Budget coming up in a very short period of time, and I can indicate to the member that the Government is very much focused on ensuring that retraining opportunities, and support for those who do need to undertake retraining and upskilling as a result of the economic crisis, will be an integral part of the Government’s response.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Minister: is it a fact that an unparalleled 100-year crisis of the nature that COVID-19 has inflicted upon our economy means that he may be, as Minister of Education, struggling to fund all the demands made of him?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: That is true, although I’d quite happily fund them all; it’s the gentleman to my left who’s more of the impediment to that.