The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Saturday, March 26, 2005

could do better

Idiot/Savant has posted at No Right Turn about the leftness (or otherwise) of Labour, following on from the discussion that has exploded in response to the post detailing my bitterness at Labour being seen as "left."

IS identifies a number of areas where Labour could do better and I wanted to just touch on one of them (although I do agree with the others he raises too).

Universal student allowances - simple idea, simple execution, big surplus, lots of public support (2002 NZUSA research shows 80% of New Zealanders support a universal student allowance and that support for it had increased from 2000 results), and a good progressive policy. So what's the problem?

Yes, I realise that Labour has made allowances available to more students by raising the parental income threshold. However that is really just tinkering. What I'm looking for is a plan, even one that involves phasing in. For example, Labour could roll up its sleeves and say they'll lower the age for parental means-testing to 22 in 2006, 20 in 2007, 28 in 2008 and get rid of it altogether in 2009.

Labour Party members would certainly support such a plan, and, as has been pointed out over in IS's threads, so would many middle class voters in the centre. So the stumbling block must be Caucus (and I note the comments about Phil Goff's continued presence at No Right Turn - very good point indeed).

Realistically the ever increasing problem of student debt cannot be addressed until students no longer have to borrow to eat. Until a universal allowance is available, and tertiary fees are reduced to an amount that could be saved over summer or abolished altogether (my preference), the Student Loan Scheme will remain a necessary evil.

12 comments:

David Farrar said...

You may be surprised I largely agree with you. I believe parental means testing until the age of 25 is irrational. I could possibly be persuaded that it be 21, but 25 is far too high.

This would do far more for reducing student debt, than tinkering with the loans scheme which often has the opposite effect of increasing debt as borrowing has become more attractive.

span said...

*picks self up off floor after falling off chair*

I'm not convinced that tinkering with the loans scheme makes it "more attractive" but perhaps less unattractive - sounds like semantics but i think many people are actually quite debt averse, when it comes to things like loans. But maybe that's a bit naive of me, given the rate that people seem to be borrowing in the form of credit cards.

Xavier said...

I agree with David on that one. If you want to measure dependence, measure it on actual dependence (i.e. whether a person lives at home) rather than arbitrary age distinctions. Introducing a more sensible student allowance system would drastically reduce student debt - by as much as a half.

sagenz said...

If you have a limited sum of money to allocate to tertiary education then student fees make sense. You get more people educated for the same money.
If you charge fees and you want wide access unrelated to means then student loans make sense

the level of 25 is just rationing. If it means that an extra few thousand people can be educated then it is justifiable.

stephen said...

If it means that an extra few thousand people can be educated then it is justifiable.

Mmm.There is a fairness aspect to this also, so I'm not sure I agree. Anyway, is that the effect in practise?

span said...

so the best rationale for the seemingly arbitrary age of 25 is that it is a rationing exercise? I would really love to see any evidence at all for how 25 was picked - as far as I'm aware NZUSA has never been able to uncover why that age was set for parental means testing, it's certainly not indicative of dependence.

in fact when i lived at home I had to pay board, although not a huge amount, and i had fellow students whose families were not well off who were actually contributing to the household income, even though they were living at home - it was sometimes the rest of the family who were dependent on some of the income of the student, not vice versa.

stef said...

What I don't get in all these discussions on labor and the lack of provision in the welfare state that it inevitably focuses on tertiary education.

Yes I know student debt sucks, but in terms of spending priorities for the welfare state I don't think that increasing money on students will decrease poverty in New Zealand as a whole.

Things that I would like to see the government focus on.

1. Increasing abatement rates on benefits. They are way too high and discourage people from working. Yes I know some parents would prefer to stay at home/can't work but the welfare state should be a safety net not a bog to get stuck in.

2. Increasing access to doctors and reducing the costs of prescription drugs. In my first year in Korea it was cheaper for me to go to the doctor here despite the fact I wasn't in the public health insurance scheme, then it was in New Zealand! Prescription drugs are also way cheaper.

3. Increasing access to state housing. Housing is a basic necessity.

4. Increasing access to high quality childcare. Not only state providers but there should incentives for employers to do it too!

5. Improving educational outcomes in poorer areas. At the moment there is no incentives for teachers to go an teach in schools with large numbers of problem students yet they are the ones so in need of the expertise.

6. Increased oppourtunities for people outside of universities. University education is nice but not for everyone. Apprentships are great. Especially in small industries where things are best learnt on the job. My father has trained up a number of people but hasn't recieved any assistance in doing so despite the positive impact his actions have on the ecnomny.

7. Ok this is whacky, and I don't know if it could work in New Zealand. But having seen it function so well in Korea I really like it. Hot lunches at school. All students get a hot lunch, some pay for it some don't. All kids get a good meal. Of course it does help having a homogenus student body so special dietiary requirements are non existent.

Rich said...

Schoolkids get hot meals at lunchtime in England too - in my day they were pretty disgusting. Apparently now they are more palatable but lacking in food value. It's actually an election controversy at the moment.

Graham Watson said...

There should be no parental means testing whatsoever, that NZUSA ever allowed Labour to get away with this back in 1990 was disgusting. People should not be discriminated against because of the income status of their folks (and absurdly even if not together).

Rationing could more effectively be achieved by removing allowances altogether except for extreme hardship, awarding significantly increased scholarships/bursaries on merit, loans available to fund all else and in term funding of SJS to assist students to provide for themselves. I could envisage the same amount of funds directed to the tertiary sector in a far fairer and more meaningful manner than the current inequitable blunt instrument.

David Farrar said...

Heh heh Spanner, all those years in OUSA were not wasted on me :-)

Some people are debt averse, but you have many veryu bright students who will happily borrow to the max just as an investment, planning to pay it back on graduation. But then sometimes they end up spending it.

Sage - yes the policy of 25 is there as rationing. But I think we need better rationale than that for a policy. Otherwise why not 27 or 29 or 33? When the surpluses were smaller, more of an issue, but now-a-days it is hard to argue against IMO.

Overall there are two sensible ways to reduce student debt. Either increase allowances or increase funding of universities etc so they can lower fees. I prefer the former because I have little faith that if you gave unis say $2,000 more per student, fees long-term would drop or stay lower. It would get eaten up by the university bureaucracies etc.

Anonymous said...

I think Stef's agenda is pretty good + I'd love to see Labour implement it. However, it's currently held to ransom by it's new friends in the "business community", so all issues of social justice are off.
One thing's for sure: the "Working for Families" [sic] package is a crock of shit. The Child Poverty Action Group's media statement today is accurate, IMHO. I reckon Labour's going to have trouble getting the party faithful out to vote this time - something the Nats never seem to have a problem with.

span said...

I love Stef's list. You are right that there are a lot of other things that could be done to lower poverty in NZ, besides dealing to allowances, but I guess I just get so pissed off, still, that (many) students are the only Kiwis who can't access state help to buy food.

I share DPF's distrust of university management in regard to increasing per student funding. I'd still like to see it happen, but I think that governance issues may need to be addressed first for it to have the desired effect (affect? I can never work that one out).