Should the student allowance be enough to live on?

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Eavesdropping is one of my guilty pleasures. I like listening in to others’ conversations on the bus, in the office, wherever. (And most certainly on Twitter, where jumping into the stream is what it’s all about.)

Sometimes, though, these conversations only serve to rark you up.

Recent case in point: a discussion about the student allowance, and specifically how it’s not enough to live on.

Right now, student allowance runs to a maximum of $167 a week, from what I can tell. If you’re in Auckland, you can get another $40 in accommodation allowance for a total of $207. (If you don’t qualify for the student allowance, you can borrow $169 a week in living costs. This is never a good idea, because your loan balance will balloon like you cannot believe. But it’s an option.) And if you’re over 24 – a personal bugbear for me; why should you get more simply for being over an arbitrary age? – you qualify for up to $201 a week.

You can’t live on that alone, I grant you. But it’s not so hard to get a job for 10 or 15 hours a week, and with that additional income, it’s certainly more than enough to eke out a reasonable standard of living. Your income in any one week can be up to $203.13 before tax before your allowance payments are affected.

When I was studying, I received a total of $185 a week (the maximum back then). I was making maybe another $150 between my various hustles (I’ve always worked multiple jobs, although now my second gig consists of the very occasional mystery shop or essay editing gig).

My basic expenses were $100 rent (I was living three stages out on the bus route), $30 for transport (an unlimited monthly pass), $50 or so on groceries (a princely sum compared to the $25/30 I spent during the last year of high school in which I lived on my own) and utilities worked out to around $30 a week.

But I don’t want to live out in the burbs!!!

Well, you could live closer to town, or in town, and cut out transport for a corresponding gain in rent (probably $150 or more but you might find a cheap room for around $120). Still doable.

Yes, it’s an austere existence, but we don’t pay taxes so you can live it up while at uni.

And if you can’t find a job (or can’t work one because you’re a medical student, etc), then living at home it is. Such is life.

Worst case scenario, you left a small town in order to attend university and your parents can’t or won’t provide any financial help. That’s rough, and kind of leaves with little choice aside from racking up more debt. But as a student, you do at least have access to cheap loans and overdrafts (and potentially cheap credit cards; I can’t remember what the banks were offering in my day).

Let’s face it, nobody ever promised that student allowance would provide for all your needs. As a nation we simply cannot afford such a luxury. It’d be nice to have $15 minimum wage and free medical and dental care for all. But these things just aren’t realistic for this (any?) country.

What do you reckon? Classic entitlement attitude? Something worthy of tax dollars? Something in between?

16 thoughts on “Should the student allowance be enough to live on?

  1. Sorry E, can you clarify for me – do students have to pay this allowance back when they graduate? Or is it basically just “free” money?

    Our student loan system sounds similar – you’re granted so much per week, and it can be adjusted based on income earned. But that’s a loan. Much less sense of entitlement when you’re paying it back, ha!

    1. Free money, if you qualify for it (based on family income, unless you are classified as independent, depending on your circumstances, in which case it isn’t taken into account). For those who don’t, then they’re eligible to receive similar payments that DO need to be paid back.

  2. The allowance is “free money”. It’s only the loan you have to pay back.

    Personally I think certain qualifications, with heavy study time – such as medicine, should be eligible for an increased allowance. Perhaps with a condition that you need to work in the country for at least the first two years after graduating – like the teaching scholarships.

    However, aside from that, I don’t think the allowance should be increased. You don’t want to university study to be seen simply as a way to avoid work for a few more years, which does seem to happen now. Better the income limit be raised – the amount you’re allowed to earn before your allowance is affected. Why punish those who are willing to work hard for their future?

    1. Love both your suggestions – great points. Couldn’t agree more. I understand there’s a concern about fairness, but those willing to work shouldn’t be penalised. As for the possibility of grades suffering, they now have some kind of requirement in that regard to student loans (and if you’re paying for it yourself – that’s your problem – and scholarship students will usually have their own grade standards).

  3. I am a graduate student in the US, in one of those programs where you’re really not supposed to work outside of your school commitment. I didn’t come into graduate school straight from undergrad, so the idea of living with the rents is both unappealing and impractical.

    However, as a US student, I have to pay back every single cent of the money that I spend on school and living expenses over the next few years. I would love it if I was able to get living expense money that didn’t have to be paid back. I think undergraduate students are definitely more likely to “party it up” while in school, whereas graduate students take their programs much more seriously.

    So I’m not really sure which side I come out on…but definitely something to think about!

  4. As a US reader, it is hard to relate. We do have very limited grants for the poorest students, but the gov’t definitely doesn’t give you money that you don’t have to pay back to get through school. I think it sounds like it is enough to live very lean on, which seems like a fair deal.

  5. Yeah. The student loans are interest-free, as well, right? Coming from the US, I have no sympathy! :) No increases. They need to be grateful for what they get, which is free money to study and loans that aren’t likely to get out of control because of interest. If it isn’t enough, most have the Bank of Mom and Dad and the high minimum wage ($13+/hour?) to fall back on, which US students have to rely entirely on (with $7.25/hour min wage). Students don’t know how CUSHY they have it here!

    I feel bad for Master’s and Honours students, though–they should qualify for an increase because of all the value they’ll bring to NZ. In the US MS students (in the sciences) usually get a small stipend and tuition waiver to get their degree…

  6. I’d say not to penalize those who were willing to work to supplement their income as long as their grades stay up but other than that – if it’s free money? Shut it. It’s Free Money. Where on earth do students get off griping about free money they don’t have to pay back to someone who is under no obligation to pay it to when they aren’t making any promises to go on and become a taxpayer into that system?

    No strings attached money for you to get higher education and you’re complaining? Dear heavens.

  7. Completely etitlement attitude all the way. As you said, that money comes from other people’s taxes, and I for one am not forking out for someone to have fun at uni. Get a job.

    The idea of extra allowance for courses like medicine is interesting, but I’d rather there was a reduction in the uni fees upon completion for those instead. Do you guys have HECS (or whatever we Aussies call it now) over there? At least that way there’s some incentive to finish the course.

    1. Just Wikid HECs. Are you referring to the higher fees on certain courses? As long as I’ve known it, arts have always been the cheapest courses here while the likes of med are pricier degrees.

  8. In Canada, we can get both loans and bursaries (money that we do not have to pay back). I say that if it is free money, then one cannot complain about not getting enough free money to live a (more lavish) lifestyle. After all, as you mentioned, the more the incentive to work to supplement the free income.

    1. The allowance is means tested, so not everyone gets it. Which is fair IMHO. (Speaking as someone who earned too much from her part time job to get Ausstudy when I was at uni)

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