This week’s Nelson Mail column was on a topic I already wrote about here – education – but I thought I’d put the whole thing up so I can include the links that aren’t in print.
As much as I hate to say it, the end of another year is looming upon us. Being an obsessively Type A personality, I’m already thinking about new year’s resolutions.
My first thought was one I’ve had for a long time – postgraduate education.
It’s two weeks until Halloween.
Soon we’ll roll into November, everyone will start asking what you’re doing for Christmas, and university enrolments will close.
Summer will arrive before the last of the snow melts, the city will double in size with jaywalking tourists, and we’ll be counting down to 2015 before we know it.
It’s hard for me to accept that, on paper, the year has been a complete write-off.
March marked 12 months since my first trip to hospital. My doctors said then that recovery would probably take at least a year, to which I loudly scoffed.
True to Type A, I planned to go back to work months ago. My arthritic spine had other ideas.
I have a medical certificate that allows me to work 15 hours maximum, and that’s on a good week. The certificate also states that I shouldn’t expect to return to fulltime work within the next two years. I plan to prove that wrong.
After I finished my degree in 2011, I wanted to do postgraduate study.
While I don’t exactly need it to do the job I want, it’s a dream I can’t quite give up.
In order to do it now, I’d have to quit receiving the benefit.
This is because the Sickness Benefit was rolled into the Jobseeker Benefit (previously unemployment) in the latest welfare reforms, and although I have medical exemption from looking for work, I am still supposed to be available to do it.
Not only would study make me unavailable, it is considered equivalent to working, and, according to that certificate, I’m only allowed to do 15 hours.
The postgraduate course I’d like to do requires between 20 and 30 hours of study a week.
The other option is to apply for a student loan to cover my living costs. This is about $175 per week, which is significantly less than the benefit.
I fail to see any place in New Zealand in which I could live on $175 a week, save moving back in with my parents. I love them, but this is not on my to-do list.
So I’d have to work in the 10 hours I wasn’t studying in order to make up the shortfall.
Which leaves me working 40 hours a week.
That’s a little bit more than the 15 my health allows.
I could study if I were receiving the Supported Living Payment (formerly the Invalid’s Benefit), but I don’t currently qualify for it because my condition is hoped to improve.
Two years ago I might have been able to apply for the student allowance, which is a little more than $200 a week depending on your circumstances.
Unfortunately, because of government funding cuts, the allowance is no longer available to postgraduate students.
Perhaps I am being irrational, but it seems utterly absurd to put so many barriers on higher education.
We should be making it more accessible, not less.
The economic impact of supporting students would surely be outweighed by the contribution they make, both during study and after.
Last year, a survey of Victoria University studentssuggested that the funding cuts would drastically affect research in New Zealand: “Of the 202 participants in the study, 158 said they would be severely disadvantaged by the changes, and 76 said they would cut short their postgraduate studies as a result.”
Anecdotally, I’ve heard many of my friends say that they wouldn’t hesitate to complete or further their education, if it were financially possible for them to do so.
Even those who are totally physically able are reluctant to add thousands of dollars to their student loans, either by course fees or borrowing to live.
The recent funding changes also raised compulsory loan repayments to 12 per cent.
I was lucky enough to have paid off my loan before I got ill. For many others, 12 cents out of every dollar is a significant deduction each week.
Like I said, I don’t really need more education to do the job I want to do – but it would make me better at it.
In the process, I’d contribute money to education and keep university staff employed.
My research could add to the pool of knowledge we have in New Zealand.
Once I completed it, I’d theoretically be able to work smarter and harder.
These all seem like very positive outcomes for such minimal cost.
Instead, it is more financially viable for me to stay on a benefit and work the tiny amount I am currently able, than it is to educate myself and contribute to the current and future economy.
Again. It just seems absurd.