Joyce mixing student messages
Steven Joyce has a reputation as the Cabinet’s heavy hitter, and he holds a trio of portfolios that are central to economic planning.
Joyce is the Minister of Economic Development, Tertiary Education Minister and Minister of Science and Technology. This should allow him to co-ordinate the Government’s efforts in those three vital areas.
All the more reason then to be surprised that in last week’s announcements about student loans, Joyce’s left hand did not appear to know what his right hand was doing.
Joyce’s changes to the student loan scheme will require students to lift their annual repayments on student loans from 10 to 12 cents in the dollar. This obligation will cut in on students earning as little as $19,000 annually.
In addition, student allowances will be scrapped for those doing post-graduate work, at the point where four years of study have been completed.
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics have been earmarked to receive the ‘‘up to’’ $70 million estimated to result from these measures.
Yet, as was quickly pointed out, the scrapping of post-graduate student allowances will have an impact on those studying medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine, besides the arts and commerce students singled out by Joyce.
Given the country’s GP shortage, that seemed an inexplicable move. According to Green Party MP Holly Walker, the change will be sending an overall signal that only the wealthy can expect to afford to pursue any form of postgraduate studies in future.
The Government has said it will be using the upcoming Budget to shift funding to favour degrees in science, technology, engineering and maths, and the Tertiary Education Commission has also called on tertiary institutions to increase the number of graduates in those fields.
Unfortunately, there is little evidence of a need for more graduates in those fields – let alone of jobs being available, once graduates have completed their studies.
Last year, 560 scientists sent an open letter to the Government, decrying the dearth of career openings in New Zealand (and the minimal state support) for postgraduates in science.
Anecdotally, there is evidence of science and technology jobs for people emerging from polytechnics, particularly for those with trade certificates.
However, few jobs exist for those with post-graduate degrees in science. The problem is that most science and technology jobs are based in either Crown Research Institutes or in universities, both of which are facing funding pressure from government and therefore, are not hiring.
On the face of it, Joyce is talking about shifting the focus of university course funding and fostering careers in areas where – with his other hand – he is limiting the funding required to sustain such careers.
In fact, one of the first acts of the incoming government in 2008 was to scrap the tax incentives that were meant to lift our levels of private sector research and development closer to the international norm.
In sum, it is hard to see how Joyce’s plans will do anything other than hasten the brain drain. Politically speaking, they also provide young voters with a reason to feel lastingly aggrieved. It hardly seems worth the return.