NZ PM hits out at university fee changes

New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English. (Picture: AFP)


Kathryn Powley: Kiwis deserve a fairer go from their cousins

3 May 2017 9:00 pm

On Monday, among the news that university students will pay more for their degrees and repay their loans sooner, came news that expatriate New Zealand students will face an enormous fees rise.

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From the start of next year, Kiwis who aren’t citizens of this country and Australian permanent residents will pay the same fees as international students, usually in excess of $20,000 a year. [Kiwis will pay domestic full fees, not international fees].

On the surface that may seem like a sensible cost-cutting decision on the part of Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham, but it appears the impact of this policy has not been thought through. The ramifications of this shifting of the goalposts for New Zealanders living here permanently are astronomical and will likely lead to some quitting the country and returning to New Zealand.

Consider one professional Kiwi who contacted the Herald Sun this week. Three years ago he landed a plum job with a respected employer. The employer crowed about their recruit, announcing that after a worldwide search they had hired the top person for the job. Still, shifting countries was a big call and for a man in his 50s it meant leaving behind elderly parents. He accepted the job and moved here with his wife and four children. One child began university graduate studies, the second started a bachelor’s degree and the other two started high school. His wife found work, they bought a house, joined a church, made friends, picked a footy team and volunteered in their local community.

They pay income tax while a one-off stamp duty on their house cost $50,000. They loved their new life. Then came this week’s news that if their third child started university next year as planned, the fees would leap from the $6500 a year to $23,000.

On top of that, the second child’s graduate studies were now in jeopardy. Both would incur student loans of about $100,000.

“It’s a game changer for us,” he told the Herald Sun. “I am now looking at jobs back in New Zealand. We pay taxes in Australia, yet there is no recognition of this.”

Nor is there any recognition of the impact on his employer who, if the rules go through, may have to embark on another worldwide search. He is just one of the many thousands of working Kiwis, committed to this country, welcomed under a “Special Category Visa” and close trans-Tasman ties, but now fretting for their children’s future.

Perhaps Birmingham’s is a dollars-and-cents decision aimed at discouraging “bludging” Kiwis from coming solely to gain an education courtesy of the hardworking Aussie taxpayer.

But to announce the changes with no phasing-in period and apparently scant regard for thousands of New Zealanders who are committed to and invested in this country is callous at worst, clumsy at best.

Birmingham has offered a salve of sorts.

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham. (Picture: AAP)

While forking out higher fees, Kiwis will for the first time be eligible for student loans, repayable at the end of their degree. But our Kiwi dad is unimpressed.

“The fact that they will lend students so much money is worrying. It may be possible for a student to manage $6000 a year with part time work and a bit of help from parents — but not $20,000 plus.”

Under the new rule, which still needs to pass into law, New Zealanders already enrolled will be able to continue their current course at domestic student fee rates and children who arrived as minors and have lived here for 10 years or more too will be able to the pay lower domestic fees.

Readers may rightly ask: “If this family and other Kiwis are so committed to Australia, why don’t they simply become Australian citizens?” Here comes the sting. On April 24 PM Malcolm Turnbull announced those wanting to become citizens would have to live here for four years, not one year as had been the case. That and the university announcement blindsided New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English.

A deeply unhappy English says “serious discussions” are now needed with the Australia about the two countries’ arrangements for expatriates.

“It shows what happens when you’ve got government deficit. The Australians are trying to sort out their budget and this is one area where they think they can make some savings,” he said.

English was smarting that he’d spoken to Turnbull on Friday about the abrupt changes to citizenship rules but not one hint was dropped that changes were afoot for university students.

“There is now significant uncertainty about the Australian attitude towards that traditional arrangement,” he said.

Australia’s tough love approach to Kiwis through these two announcements, which incidentally bookmarked Anzac Day, appear to indicate that the Turnbull Government is intent on banging nails in the coffin of the once close bonds between New Zealand and Australia.

[Read the HeraldSun article].

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