The recent decision by the National government to provide only four years of student loans has provided an outcry from the student community. The example presented most commonly in the media is what this means for medical students who will have to fund the final year of their degree themselves. However, what does this decision mean for science?
Fours years of funding will cover a three year undergraduate degree and a one year honours degree or half of a two year masters degree.* Alternatively it will cover the four year degrees common in some areas (e.g. engineering)*. The PhD remains outside this funding. At the moment many students make ends meet on a PhD through scholarships or teaching fellowships, however, how will these current funding models deal with the additional cost to students of no longer receiving a student allowance?
*Of course this does not take into account students who for one reason or another need to do a foundation year at a tertiary institution before pursuing a degree programme.
While this government continues to indulge in occasional rhetoric about how important science is, their actions speak louder than their words, for example, the recent merger of the Ministry of Science and Innovation into the Ministry of Business, innovation and Employment, means we no longer have a Ministry which appears, at least outwardly, to represent science. (As a comparison, a senior Australian Minister is their Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research while in the UK they have a Minister for Universities and Science).
The Tertiary Education Commission has recently provided a guide for Tertiary Education Organisations which specifically states that they want more students to be engaged towards more Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) studies however, it is unclear what, if any resources, will be provided for any change in the number of students studying science related subjects.
Government ministers in New Zealand are happy to talk about how important science is, but their actions do not match their words; the same sort of disconnect one sees in an abusive spouse who will say “I love you” while squeezing their hands around your throat.