New Zealand’s Labour party has reignited the debate over tertiary education, promising to scrap student fees if it’s re-elected next year. The scheme will provide three years of free education at a national cost of nz$1.2bn (€706m) per year by 2025.
Kiwis have paid one third of the cost of their university-level education since 1991 and student debt has become an increasing problem for New Zealand. For those without the cash, a government-run scheme loans them the money that is then repaid through the country’s taxation system once they start earning. Today there are 720,000 people who owe nz$14.2bn (€8.4bn) collectively – a debt that is counted as an asset on the country’s books. Yet just 60 per cent of the cost of the money borrowed is actually returned to the government; the rest is written off as free interest, administration and bad debts. by last year expat New Zealanders had defaulted on nz$686m (€404m) and the government recently introduced a law allowing defaulters to be arrested on return to the country.
“It’s delaying adulthood in a significant way,” says Alan France, professor of sociology at the University of Auckland and the author of Understanding Youth in Global Crisis. “The types of jobs kids are able to get are precarious, they’re insecure and they’re still low paid.” By his count it takes as long as five to 10 years to get into stable employment, during which time graduates struggle under heavy debt, as well as delaying home ownership and having children.
The issue is even greater for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. “Some groups are struggling with this more than others,” says France, noting that while the number of students completing tertiary qualifications has increased in recent years, the number of young people from low-income households has stayed static as poorer students are put off by the prospect of high living costs while studying – and debt once they graduate.
Western Australia’s fortunes have changed considerably since Perth’s flashy Elizabeth Quay waterfront development was first conceived in 2011. At the height of the state’s mining boom the quay was viewed as a reflection of Western Australia’s growing prosperity; now it may serve as a lifeline for its economy. Within weeks of the project opening earlier this year, the state’s credit rating was downgraded. Construction of some offices planned for the Quay has also been delayed. But the Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority’s ceo, Kieran Kinsella, says the development – which cost au$440m (€282m) – will help the state as it shifts away from relying on income from mining. “It’s a place that will attract visitors for an iconic West Australian experience,” he says. “And it will be a driver of tourist investment and dollars.”