Kiwis in Australia want to fight sweeping uni fees changes

Bill English says he is unhappy with the change, but Kiwis want the government do more.

Morning Report/RNZ – Decision to hike uni fees undermines trans-Tasman relationship

The surprise decision by the Australian government to triple the fees New Zealanders pay to study at its universities has the government questioning the trans-Tasman relationship.

Kiwis in Australia are calling on our Government to do more for them after the Turnbull government announced sweeping changes to fees they pay for university.

Under the proposed changes New Zealanders would have to pay the full rate to study at Australian universities – around three times what they have to pay now as subsidised students, taking average annual fees from around $7000 to more than $30,000.

The approximately 8000 Kiwi students who are already enrolled will not have their fees raised, and some students would gain access to student loans – but Kiwis all over the country said this was nowhere near enough.

“It feels unfair. It makes us feel very unwelcome here – like we are pretty much unwanted in this country,” new Kiwi student Matilda Boyce said.

The 18-year-old dux of her high school just began a science degree at the University of Western Australia, where she has been living since 2010.

Australia has announced a new policy proposing cuts to funding for Kiwi students across the Tasman. Gerry Brownlee doubts “it will get overturned”.

As she is already enrolled her fees should be unaffected by the hike, but she doesn’t trust the government to stick to their word, and any postgraduate study or change to her degree is now out of the question.

“They say the fees won’t change for us – but I don’t fully trust that, because we’ve seen a pretty major change this week.”

Worse – her family will probably move home so her younger brother can afford university study.

Kiwi Matilda Boyce won the dux at her Australian high school, but still might have to study in New Zealand if new changes go ahead.

Boyce was ineligible for student loans but her parents had saved up enough to pay her upfront fees. She said any new eligibility for student loans wouldn’t make up for the change.

“I would much rather be paying around $9000 a year upfront than $35,000 a year on a loan. That’s a huge amount of money. That’s more than my entire degree in one year.”

She said the New Zealand government could be doing “a lot more” to address issues for Kiwis in Australia.

“If this does pass there’s going to be a lot of people sending their kids back to New Zealand. The government will need to be prepared for that, they could make it easier.”

Prime Minister Bill English has made his unhappiness over the policy change clear, and is sending newly-minted foreign minister Gerry Brownlee over to convey his displeasure this week.

The current policy is reciprocal – Australians can study in New Zealand universities for a reduced rate as well.

English said removing this subsidy in return wouldn’t solve anything.

The changes still have to pass through the Australian Senate.

‘No discussion, no engagement’

Kiwi lobby group Oz Kiwi called the move “appalling”.

“We think this policy is appalling. It undermines the understanding between the countries and has come at such short notice, with no discussion, no engagement with the NZ government and no engagement with the students here,” spokesman Timothy Gassin said.

“This is by far the most serious change since 2001, and unlike the changes in 2001 there aren’t safeguards for people who are already here.”

Gassin said that the New Zealand government had to take a firm line.

“Australia has been showing contempt for New Zealand for some years now and the New Zealand government hasn’t called it out on it.

“In some ways part of the reason I think we’ve got here is that New Zealand governments have been weak on this issue in the past.”

‘It will backfire’

Kiwi mum Trudi Collom, who has lived in Queensland since 2005, said she wasn’t sure if the New Zealand government were doing anything to help her family.

“It’s really unfair. We have kids that could potentially have to settle for doing crappy jobs if we or they can’t come up the money. The Australian government have always discriminated against Kiwis.”

Collom hoped to get her oldest child, who is 16, into university before the changes hit.

“I’m just hoping it won’t pass in time for my oldest to quickly enrol,” she said.

“Until now cost hasn’t been a factor in what course he would choose, but if this all goes ahead then it will become a major factor.”

She didn’t know what would happen with her two younger kids.

“If this goes ahead it will backfire. All those Kiwis living here will choose not to study and it will have a major impact on Australia.”

Life plans ruined

One prospective student who wished not to be named said the changes would ruin her years-long plan to study veterinary science in Australia by driving up the fees to more than $280,000.

The woman, who works in advertising but wanted to restart her career elsewhere, has been studying towards a bachelor of science in New Zealand, with hopes of completing a post-graduate course in veterinary science in Australia, where she could live with family while studying fulltime.

“Under these new rules, I am no longer eliglble for a [subsidised enrollment]. The fees would therefore be almost $50,000 per year instead of $9000.”

If she opts to study veterinary science in New Zealand she will be starting from “square one” and will not be able to support herself.

She said the Government was not doing enough to fight for Kiwis in Australia.

“I am going to write letters to Gerry Brownlee and Bill English today, but I think we need some accountability, surely its someones job to ensure our relationship with Australia isn’t being degraded and it feels like it is.

“A huge door of opportunity is being shut for Kiwis.”

[Read the Stuff article].

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