Gordon Campbell on Steven Joyce’s student loans debacle

Gordon Campbell on Steven Joyce’s student loans debacle

By Gordon Campbell

Of all the ways of trying to save “up to” $60-70 million – and that’s only if he’s very, very lucky – Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce has made a real hash of it. Joyce has decided to change the student loan scheme in a fashion that will (a) effectively impose an extra tax on people earning as little as $19,000 (b) cut off student allowances to those students doing post-graduate work or studying medecine, at a pojnt where they have already done four years of study, which will (c) accelerate the brain drain overseas (d) deter people from tertiary study altogether and (e) give young voters an excellent new reason for not voting for National at the next election. All in order, allegedly, to raise funds to “plough back” into academic research and to boost teaching standards (yeah right) at the nation’s tertiary institutions. Science and engineering have been earmarked to receive the funds raised or saved) by these new measures – but as has already been pointed out, the changes will impact negatively on those studying medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, and on post-graduate programmes in arts, law, and commerce.

In other words, what we’re looking at here is a pretty crude form of social engineering – in the shape of a revenue grab that the government is deploying to force some people into science and engineering and other (poorer) people out of doing post-graduate study altogether. Maybe if our tertiary institutions are in dire straits (and they are) then slapping an extra burden on some of the country’s lowest income earners – in the form of a 20 % rise in the repayment rate on people earning very little – isn’t the fairest, or most sensible way of going about it. How can Joyce be claiming to be keeping tertiary standards globally competitive, when his changes will abolish allowances at the very point when people are trying to finish their M.A.s and/or their doctorates? As the NZ Herald explains:

At present, New Zealand tertiary students were entitled to an allowance for 200 weeks, and if they needed support for post-graduate study they had to seek an extension. That extension will now be ditched, and Government says students studying for more than 200 weeks will have to support themselves.

As Greens MP Holly Walker says, this policy change is sending a message that only wealthy people should even consider doing post-graduate study. Is this a sensible way of meeting our knowledge economy needs, or of addressing the shortage of GPs in this country? Hardly. Yet the new toughline is coming from the same alleged mastermind of the current Cabinet line-up. If this is the first fruit of the policy co-ordination we were promised when Joyce got his Economic Development/Science and Technology/Tertiary Education triple portfolio package after the last election, this country is in deep, deep trouble.

According to Joyce, the changes to the student loan scheme announced yesterday would affect several thousand people and was fair “because post-graduates were likely to be earning a higher income when they left university.” Right. Love the word “likely.” Especially when this week’s statistics show unemployment figures continuing to rise.

That lift in unemployment, if you listened to Prime Minister John Key, was to be taken as a really good thing. Why? Because, allegedly, unemployment figures on the increase are a sign that since more people are looking for work, so therefore they must be confident (don’t say the word ‘desperate’) that work opportunities existed out there, which means everything is really turning out fine.

While 9000 new jobs were created during the three months, the increase was not enough to keep up with the 18,000 extra people looking for work. Mr Key says the economy is creating employment and attracting more people to look for jobs, which is pushing up the unemployment rate but also shows more people feel confident enough in the job market to look for work.

Key also claimed that even though the only rise in employment seemed to be in part time work, this would in time, be likely to mean a rise in full time employment. Why? Well…just because. In Key’s world of spin, Things Going Bad are to be taken as evidence of Everything Turning Out Good. Those spoilsports at the CTU however, pointed out that creating half the number of jobs needed to meet the demand for work is NOT in fact a really, really good sign.

The Council of Trade Unions says the latest figures show the jobs market on its knees. It says the Government should be doing more to stimulate employment, rather than cutting spending to balance its books, which is to the detriment of the economy and jobs.

Kim Dot Banks: The Never-Ending Story

As the John Banks affair declines into the minutiae of whether Banks could or couldn’t manage a discount at a Hong Kong hotel all by himself, maybe we should keep in mind the point made in the original report on that particular matter:

The Banks’ holiday trip was revealed by the Weekend Herald, which detailed how Mr Banks had telephoned Dotcom’s bodyguard to ask for a hotel recommendation. Dotcom, who has rented the top floor of the Grand Hyatt for seven years, suggested Mr Banks stay at the hotel and helped to make arrangements for the holiday.

So the suggestion of Banks and Dotcom being very, very good and mutually helpful friends remains, regardless of what Banks managed to achieve on his hotel tab at the hotel reception desk. And the uber-issue also remains. How credible is it that Banks didn’t know the source of the two $25,000 donations made by Dotcom? Answer: It gets less and less credible by the day. And how come Len Brown knew that he got $15,000 from Sky City and declared it on his mayoral campaign expenditure return, while Banks – who got an identical amount for his campaign – somehow couldn’t and didn’t?

Banks may well stay on – fatally discredited – and limp onwards to his next crisis. Which looks likely to be his vote on alcohol reform – where Banks “personal, very conservative views on raising the age for access to alcohol are 100% opposed to the “Keep It At 18” views of the Act Party’s young rank and file. The libertarian wing of the Act Party should however take consolation that ideological back-flipping by its icons is nothing new. Even the sainted Ayn Rand for instance, used to decry the unacceptable evil of social welfare for everyone else – how she railed against those “parasites,” “looters” and “moochers” among the undeserving poor. But then Rand applied for social welfare assistance herself (under her married name of Ann O’Connor) once old age and sickness finally caught up with her. Only an altruist could feel compassion for such hypocrisy – and for Banks and his supporters, amid their current self inflicted troubles.


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