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Economic disadvantage affecting achievement

Thursday 12 November 2015 | Published in Regional

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AUCKLAND – Financial pressures are being blamed for New Zealand Pasifika students’ stagnant achievement at universities and colleges.

Educators say government policy lacks flexibility for students who are on the poorer end of the scale.

At the Auckland University of Technology in downtown Auckland, it’s a short and cheap stroll from the halls around the campus or a relatively cheap bus fare for those living close to town.

But some students say just the getting to lectures from Auckland’s outer suburbs is costing them a packet.

Culinary student Line Ofanoa says her transport costs are higher in comparison to other students who receive a similar allowance but have lower travel costs because they live closer to the university.

“I don’t think it’s fair. I think they should take into consideration where they live. To get from home to uni, every week, is almost like half of what I get for my student allowance.”

AUT Film students Corey Sio and John Iosefa say they have to drive to university and can’t use public transport as they sometimes film late at night.

“So driving here, that’s like fifty dollars petrol a week but that’s not including parking. So I think, in total in a week, we spend over at least a hundred dollars on transport alone. I’m pretty sure that’s close to like 90-93 per cent of our student allowance.”

John Iosefa says financial pressures are a barrier for many Pacific students.

“I know a lot of our friends have had to leave uni because of that reason. Because they’re losing money, and their parents are losing money as well.And they just can’t afford to stay at Uni, even though it is probably best that they do.”

Reports show that Pacific achievement rates in tertiary education have barely changed despite targeted funding over the last 15 years.

The chair of the Association of Pasifika Staff in Tertiary Education Tapeni Fa’alogo says that’s due to the economic disadvantages many Pacific students face.

Fa’alogo says many of the students can’t afford to move out and find flats so they live at home with their parents in far off suburbs.

“A student that lives in Mt Eden and goes to Auckland Grammar, gets the benefit of high-decile. And then when they get to come to university, it only costs them five dollars.

“Now we have a student that lives in Manurewa, goes to a low-decile school out there, comes to the university of Auckland for instance, and it costs them twice as much just to be on campus.”

He says the distance students live from their place of study isn’t considered when allowances are calculated and that’s unfair.

The government’s student financial service Studylink has confirmed that the area a student lives in and their travel costs are not factored in to the student allowance.

The only time a student’s location is considered, is if they are not living with their parents and are eligible for an accommodation benefit.

The Tertiary Education Commission says it’s lifting its game in order to boost the achievement rates of Maori and Pasifika students.

Deputy chief executive Gus Gilmore says the current tertiary education strategy prioritises improving those figures.

“The commission is changing the way it invests in bridging programmes and it aims to engage more effectively with Pasifika communities. Especially in Auckland, where two thirds of the country’s Pacific population live.”

But Tapeni Fa’alogo says it won’t be enough to change things.

“The tertiary sector can’t change it on their own. It is for us as a society, for government agencies, the compulsory sector and private sector to all do their little bit.”

The Tertiary Education Commission says it will focus firmly on the future to invest in programmes that work for Pasifika.

- Dateline Pacific