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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 16, July 12, 1976.

Action on Bursaries

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Action on Bursaries

Student Bursaries & Education Cuts — why we are Protesting

Dear Student,

I am writing to explain why your Students' Association and the other members of NZUSA are concerned about the National Government's handling of student bursaries and its policy of cutting education spending. I will deal first with Student bursaries.

The Labour Government's Performance

The history of the Standard Tertiary Bursary dates from the Labour Party's 1972 election manifesto, which promised to introduce "a standard bursary system" to provide "adequate living allowances" for students. At the time not only were bursaries for unbonded students inadequate, but technical institute students were much worse off than university students.

Labour's promise sounded fine, but students experienced over two years of inaction and delaying tactics by the Labour Government. It was not until March 1975 when 10,000 students throughout the country demonstrated their dissatisfaction, that the Labour Government was seen to take any serious action.

Finally, in May 1975, in its final budget, the Labour Government provided for the introduction of the Standard Tertiary Bursary in 1976. Labour's plans contained several important defects. Two of these were particularly significant:
  • the weekly living allowance (of $24, or $27 from the fourth year of study) was inadequate. In August 1974 the Education Department suggested an allowance equivalent to that of the basic social security benefit (currently $33.20 a week);
  • the boarding allowance was retained in the form of the boarding abatement. This was again contrary tot he Education Department's August 1974 paper.

On the positive side, however, the Labour Government agreed to open discussions on the development of a students' cost of living index. This proposal opened the way for automatic increases in student bursaries to compensate students fully for increases in the cost of foot, rent, books, clothes etc. At the Education Department's request, NZUSA sent a proposal for a Student Price Index to the Department in December last year.

The National Party's Pre-Election Performance

While the National Party was in opposition, NZUSA discussed student bursaries with Mr L.W. Gandar, who is now Minister of Education, and from early 1975 National actively raised the bursaries issue in Parliament.

National was particularly critical of the Standard Tertiary Bursary, and soon after the budget had been announced, it appeared that a National Government would scrap the Labour scheme. However, later in the year the party changed its mind after students had made it quite clear that, despite the inadequacies of the Standard Tertiary Bursary, they regarded it as a significant advance.

National in Office

Let's look at what the National Government has done to carry out its five-point policy on student bursaries.

1.Labour had already promised to retain, at least for 1976, the level of allowances paid to student teachers. However, the National Party actually went back on its promise by attempting not to pay first year student teachers the cost of living increases they had traditionally received. Strong united pressure from students' and teachers' organisations thwarted this move.
2.'A' and 'B' bursaries have been reinstated, the only promise that the Government has so far carried out.
3.Labour had already put technical institute and university students on the same level of bursaries.
4.NZUSA welcomes National's promise to review the Standard Tertiary Bursary. Since the election we have emphasised to Mr Gandar the urgency of getting this review underway and we have submitted comprehensive proposals to him on how this might be done. To date, however, there has been absolutely no progress.

Before last year's election, the University Grants Committee, in consultation with NZUSA and the universities, produced a draft of the regulations governing the Standard Tertiary Bursary. All the Education Department had to do was to combine these regulations with those for technical institute and teachers' college students.

Eight months later, the Department has still failed to produce the new bursaries regulations. So it is perhaps not surprising that the Government has not yet begun its review of the Standard Tertiary Bursary!

NZUSA has also emphasised to Mr Gandar the urgency of a cost of living index being introduced for the Standard Tertiary Bursary as soon as possible. In December and again in March this year Mr Gandar agreed to NZUSA holding discussions on the Student Price Index proposal with departmental officials. But when a meeting was eventually held in late April, the officials refused to enter into serious discussions.

NZUSA asks for action

It was against this background that delegates from each students' association met at NZUSA's Council at Auckland University during the May holidays. NZUSA's Council decided to ask the Government for:
1.an immediate cost of living increase in the unabated rate of the Standard Tertiary Bursary to take into account the tremendous increases in living costs since the beginning of 1976 (that meant that the abatement would remain at $11 per week);
2.immediate removal of the boarding abatement;
3.payment of an unabated Standard Tertiary Bursary and the fees bursary to Ph.D students who were not receiving scholarships or other forms of assistance;
4.removal of the most pressing anomalies in the Standard Tertiary Bursary.

The Government's Reply

When NZUSA met Mr Gandar on 11 June to discuss these requests, he rejected all four of them out of hand. He refused to consider any further action on student bursaries until the Government's promised review had been completed. He made it clear that he was not prepared to consider a cost of living increase in the bursary this year and suggested that there might not be an increase at all until the new reformed bursary is introduced. In Mr Gandar's own words, this will not happen until 1978 at the earliest!

We can't take it lying down!

The Government's lack of action on student bursaries is part of its policy of cutting education spending.

The big increases in the cost of living this year have hit students like every other group in the community. The compensation the Government has allowed wage and salary earners has been small enough but university and technical institute students have received nothing! In the whole community, students are the only group to have received no compensation for inflation. Yet NZUSA's Student Price Index shows that students' cost of living has increased at a faster rate than the general Consumer Price Index.

Consider very carefully what Mr Gandar has told NZUSA representatives: there might not be an increase in student bursaries until 1978. How much will your bursary be worth then?

Remember that NZUSA has made every effort to co-operate with both Labour and National governments to improve the bursaries system. It is not NZUSA that has refused to talk!

In 1971 mass protest meetings of students and teachers made the National Government think twice about cutting education spending. In 1975 student pressure forced the Labour Government to introduce the Standard Tertiary Bursary scheme.

We have done it before and we can do it again! Weigh up all the issues. Talk to your friends. Support the protests against government inaction on bursaries and cutbacks in education spending - your education and that of thousands of students throughout the education system is at stake.

Yours sincerely,

John Blincoe,

President, New Zealand University Students Association.