14 Apr 2020

Students struggling during Covid-19 lockdown 'ringing up in panic'

7:24 am on 14 April 2020

Tertiary students are hoping a promised government package will help students struggling to pay for essentials like food and power because of the lockdown.

Generic Library / Students

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Students' associations say weekly student allowance and loan payments are not enough to cover rent for many students and the casual or part-time work they depend on for other expenses has stopped.

They also warn that some students don't have the computers and internet connections they need to keep up with online lectures.

Tessa Tuisila, who is in her final year studying oral health at the University of Otago, said she did not have a computer or internet connection at home and when lectures went online, she had to use her phone in a vain attempt to keep up.

"I've spent $70 on mobile data in the last two weeks. If I download one lecture or listen to one lecture recording, that's a $20 top-up gone so I cannot afford that. I can't afford to get on Zoom [video-conference] meetings because I don't have WiFi. Even getting WiFi sorted, they can't come out here until the third week of May."

Tuisila said the part-time work she relied on to top up the student allowance for her and her six-year-old daughter had stopped.

"It didn't give me a lot of income, it was $140 extra a week, so yeah that just covered food."

Education Minister Chris Hipkins has said he plans to make an announcement this week on a package to assist students.

Union of Students' Associations president Isabella Lenihan-Ikin, said many students were not eligible for wage subsidies because they were sacked before the lockdown started or their jobs were under-the-table.

She said students who used the living cost component of their student loans were in particular trouble if they lived in high-rent areas like Wellington.

"They might be getting a maximum of $230 a week but their rent is more and therefore they are unable to cover those essential power and food bills."

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She said students with cheaper rents were also struggling because they were home all day during the lockdown and spending more on power and internet.

"We know students are in these dire situations. I've had students ring up in panic," she said.

She said 44 student organisations had devised an action plan.

It included a student allowance for all domestic tertiary students, a hardship fund, eligibility for the government's winter energy payments, and more mental health support for students.

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