Tuesday, 14 October 2008

What do we want?

It's hard not to feel a sense of achievement. I've marched demanding universal student allowances; I've got up at 6.30am to put leaflets in lectures to get other students to march for universal student allowances, I've sat in long meetings talking about protests we were going to organise demanding universal student allowance, I've occupied buildings demanding a universal student allowance.

Although I left university a long time ago, I haven't forgotten the issue. I organised in workplaces where there were heaps of student workers. I've seen the the power that the employers had, because students needed to work outside lecture times.

I know that a universal student allowance won't just make a difference to the children of the middle and upper classes. The current threshold is $46,000 - so no student who has two parents in full-time work (even if it only pays at the minimum wage) is eligible for the full allowance.* Tertiary education is a requirement not just for middle class jobs. There is a full-time year long course for machine sewing - a job that only just pays more than minimum wage at unionised workplaces.

I think this shows the value of being organised, even in the minimal way that students are organised.

But it continues a theme of the labour government, which is ignoring the beneficiaries and targeting those with work. This comes with explicit, and implicit, ideology that those who are in work are more worthy than those who are not. This is a dangerous ideology at any time, at a time of rising unemployment it's purpose is to continue to draw attention away from the structural reasons for unemployment.

Unlike Julie I don't see Labour as a force for good.** This doesn't change my vote, or my view of labour. But it makes me think about everyone who was part of the chain that struggled against privatisation of education, against fees, and for allowances, for almost 20 years. A chain that must be continued, no matter what happens after this election.

* one of my pet issues as a union organiser was that entitlements to means tested programmes were generally indexed to inflation, if they were indexed at all, not to the minimum wage. This has meant that the entitlement of workers to things such as the community service card has declined dramatically, till anyone on full time work is no longer eligible. This is true of other programmes such as income related rents, the disability allowance, and so on. The government was giving with one hand and taking with the other.

** Although I do think that universal student allowances is a feminist policy, as is any policy that attacks student debt. Because of the wage gap women tend to take much longer to pay off student loans than men, and the amount of money they end up having to pay back is a much higher proportion of their lifetime income. Eliminating the need to borrow to live reduces, but does not eliminate this inequality.


Psycho Milt said...

Some achievement. Student numbers have doubled since the early 90s, while funding of universities hasn't even kept up with inflation and their costs have gone up with the rise of IT. And now Labour has yet another election bribe for students that will be paid for at universities' expense.

We already funded students at more than double the OECD average rate before this latest bribe. I don't feel enthusiastic about an "achievement" that sees students better able to maintain the lifestyle of a full-time worker while making universities even less well able to educate them or carry out research.

Julie said...

Thanks Maia, this is a much better post than my tired attempt last night! I guess I am still hopeful about Labour :-)

One thing that bugs me about the whole This Is Giving Money To The Middle Classes Who Don't Need It Line, is that it assumes that the children of well-off (or moderately-off) parents are well-off too. It doesn't recognise that in many families the kids are considered financially independent from a young age, and that in abusive families it may be difficult for a child, regardless of age, to get any support whatsoever. Kind of like the whole mentality that assumes that the wives of wealthy men are loaded too. It's not always the case, and imho it's a view that continues a cycle of dependence for some women and (adult) children.

Lucy said...

@psycho milt: "the lifestyle of a full-time worker:? Not really. It's about the same as the dole. Yes, you can work, but only up to a certain point; at *best*, a student on the full allowance, and earning the maximum permissible amount, will make less than a full-time worker on minimum wage; and they'll be working a lot longer hours when you add in study. Unless you've saved up a lot of money over the summer, big expenses can be cripplingly unaffordable - I know people putting off necessary dental work because it's just not possible while they're studying. Don't make this about students living the high life, because I assure you we don't.

And out of curiosity, what makes you assume this policy will be money directly taken away from universities?

Psycho Milt said...

History. Labour calls removing the interest from student loans "tertiary education funding." It's not. I've no doubt they'll also call this allowance "tertiary education funding." It's also not.

Actual tertiary education funding, ie the money provided to universities and polytechs to educate their students and carry out research, has been falling in real terms for more than 15 years. Labour counts the money given to students and says tertiary education funding has increased, but the nett effect of these alleged "increases" is to increase the number of students while decreasing the universities' ability to educate them. This latest bribe will do nothing more than exacerbate that trend.

Peter said...

The Universal Student allowance is just another example of the three-yearly auctioning of the prosperity of our country.

Having learned last election that their vote was for sale students this election have upped their price.

The pity is that few of you are old enough to remember Rob Muldoon, and the rent-seeking transfer of funds that almost wrecked this country. But I'll tell you now, the marionette antics of Oliver Woods and the rest of those clowns from RAM are very much in keeping with his legacy.

The sad news is that we are heading right back in that direction again, with the same stupid 'oreal-type' mantras.

Students should have a universal allowance 'because they deserve it'. It's sickening that the soi-disant brightest in our country can't look beyond their own narrow self-interest, and instead, like every generation before them, put themselves ahead of their country.
No wonder it's in the state it is. No wonder up to 70% of you will leave as soon as you have your taxpayer-funded degrees under your belts.

Ask yourselves this question. Why should the kids working in Pak and Save, or on the roads, or in the factories, with no prospect themselves of going to university, have to pay your way into a more profitable future?

Why should they have to invest in your capital asset, the development of your earning power?
If they wanted to start a pie-cart, to develop their earning power, do you think the taxpayer should pay them 3/4 of the cost (The amount your capital asset development is being subsidised right now by the taxpayer)?

Do you think it would be reasonable, if the taxpayer did pay 3/4 of the cost of that pie-cart (like the taxpayer is paying for you), that they should then stand there bleating for the other 1/4 to be paid as well because they are {sob} the future ?

Here's another question. If you are not prepared to invest in your own future why should you think strangers should do so?

Anyway, congratulations. Labour have now come on board in the great NZ tradition of selling our prosperity to purchase votes. They say it will cost 300 million a year, which is what freezing the student loans cost. That's wrong. 240,000 students funded at the dole is $1.5 billion per annum. Another fraction off NZ's growth rate and one step closer to the banana republic. Well done all of you.

I suppose when you are all enjoying your careers in Australia, New York or London, you can look back with nostalgia to the quaint little country you exploited to get ahead. Hey, maybe you can even come back and visit sometime, spread a bit of coin among the natives.

You talk about breaking the cycle of dependency and your answer is to put your hand out for taxpayer money?!??! Do you even appreciate the irony of that stance or are you so embedded into a mentality of entitlement that it escapes you?

I came here to see whether the questions you folk sent me as a candidate were worth replying to. I don't think they are. You all go ahead and vote for those vote-buying parties that have squandered our present and mortgaged our future. I don't think I'll be wasting any more time with you.

For the small number of you that like John F. Kennedy prefer to 'Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country', take a look at ACT's policies for the election.

None of them include bribes for anyone whether they be students, women, beneficiaries, conservationists, justice workers or any of the myriad of other groups that have their hands out each election.

What you will find are policies for growth, so that people like yourselves won't have to leave the country to make a decent living, because we will have returned to the position we were 40 years ago, when our incomes here were above Australia.

You will also find policies for empowerment of people and the abolition of big government.

In spite of the rent-seeking by groups such as students, there is still a chance this country can be saved, and if you believe that, we'd love your party vote.

Peter Tashkoff
ACT Party candidate for Te Tai Tokerau

Hugh said...

None of them include bribes for anyone whether they be students, women, beneficiaries, conservationists, justice workers or any of the myriad of other groups that have their hands out each election.

So does this mean that your fellow ACT candidate Clint Heine was wrong when he said that ACT 'have always talked about putting more money and Govt action towards improving the output of the family unit'? Or was he talking about something that doesn't come under your definition of bribes?

Anna said...

Peter, your reference to Muldoon is a stunning simplification of NZ economic history.

You accuse student loan holders of jetting off overseas out of self-interest, then say we need to do it to make decent livelihoods as we might have 40 years ago.

I'm confused, particularly as the economy 40 years ago was Keynesian and highly regulated by today's standards. I'm also not overseas. I'm in NZ, paying taxes, and quite happy to pay for students more fortunate than me to receive an education.

Your appeal to the national interest is also a bit odd. Given you've conceded that some student loan holders go overseas to pay off their debt, I would have thought you'd see the link between the difficulty retaining medical professionals in NZ, their huge student debt levels, and the effects on national wellbeing of the lack of GPs, certain specialists, midwives, etc.

I'd love to know from you which 'bribes' you believe women have had their hands out for at each election.

I look forward to your reasoned reply.

Anna said...

Psycho - the funding needs you point to within universities are all quite real, but why do you regard the separate needs of students and institutions as in competition? Surely they both have important claims.

Psycho Milt said...

I'd be happy not to consider them as competing demands, if the government would do them the same courtesy. Unfortunately, Labour's approach has been to fund students at the expense of universities - the problems with that approach, I've already covered.

Alison said...

None of them include bribes for anyone whether they be students, women, beneficiaries, conservationists, justice workers or any of the myriad of other groups that have their hands out each election.

Thanks for your honesty Peter - seems to me you've made it clear that you think of women as just another "special interest group". That says a lot.

Tui said...

Um, Maia, what I'm kind of getting from your post is, you know... "I've worked and campaigned for a universal student allowance for ages and I think they're a good thing. But don't forget, Labour is evil so this policy is still sucky!" Um. What? I appreciate people not feeling that Labour is a force for good, or whatever, but it seems a little ridiculous to slam Labour for doing something which students have been asking for for a very long time on the basis that... I don't know. You don't like them? I mean, I agree that some of Labour's policies, WFF is the obvious but not the only one, have been targeted to benefit those in-work, not those unemployed, and that this is an important issue that, apart from the issue of discrimination, contributes to child poverty, etc, etc. And I can see that this policy is going to benefit *children* of employed people more than children of beneficiaries... but we're talking about adults aged 18-25 who actually have to borrow to live (because few employed parents support ther children at university on a day-to-day basis), not minors being supported by their parents.

Azlemed said...

I had to borrow to live and quite frankly it suxed big time....

I wrote my own thoughts on this at www.sahmfeminist.blogspot.com

as for peter.... I still live in nz as does my hubby, we are bringing our children up here too... we arent part of the brain drain. We dont profit hugely out of our education, i am a at home mum, hubby earns $53k a year in science... not exactly creaming the dollars....

Julie said...

Readers may be interested in Victor Billot's take on this (Turkeys for Christmas). He's an Alliance candidate.

Hugh said...

it seems a little ridiculous to slam Labour for doing something which students have been asking for for a very long time

Perhaps the fact that students have been asking for this for a very long time is the reason to be less than avowed in our gratitude to the Labour Party? If this is the right policy, why did we have to wait nine years?