Scott Yeoman is a NZ Herald reporter

Students in Auckland battling growing budget blowouts

Brodie Hoare says at one stage last year she was juggling four different jobs. Photo / Greg Bowker
Brodie Hoare says at one stage last year she was juggling four different jobs. Photo / Greg Bowker

The average university student living in Auckland is battling a shortfall of almost $125 a week, with student associations saying the rising price of rent in the Super City is leading to rising budget blowouts.

The weekly deficit, outlined in budget figures prepared by student-run charitable organisation SavY, show a student from a median household income of $68,600 has $406.60 in costs a week and only $282.47 income.

The president of the Auckland University Students' Association (AUSA), Will Matthews, says the rising costs are taking a toll on students emotionally, mentally and financially and that New Zealand needs to review the fundamentals of the student loan and student support system.

But Minister for Tertiary Education Steven Joyce insists New Zealand has one of the most generous student support systems in the developed world.

The SavY budget - which its spokesman described as a realistic student budget in Auckland - was calculated on the average student living away from home in Auckland with friends in a flat.

It is for students living two bus stages away from the university city campus and for those who attend classes five days a week.

The organisation runs around 380 money management workshops in more than 90 secondary schools as well as at the University of Auckland, Waikato University and Victoria University of Wellington.

For 21-year-old Brodie Hoare, a third-year student at the University of Auckland, working multiple jobs is the only way to make up her weekly shortfall.

"I'd rather work more hours and have that little bit of financial security than be living my life terrified that I'm going to be meeting some unseen expense in the future," she said.

She said the risk of a sudden and unaffordable cost was really scary and like "walking on a tight rope".

"It's very expensive to live in Auckland and be studying and it just feels kind of impossible sometimes."

Real Estate Institute of New Zealand figures - obtained by the Herald last month - showed the weekly median rent across the city had risen by 14 per cent ($68) since 2012 to $568 for a three-bedroom home last year.

Ms Hoare, who is studying geography and a diploma of languages in Chinese, said with her parents living out of Auckland and unable to help financially, she has been flatting at a cost of about $160-$170 a week.

She works at least two jobs at a time while studying and at one stage last year was juggling four different jobs.

She says working 20 hours a week - mostly in the evenings and at the weekend - definitely has an impact on her studies.

"You just end up not really sleeping as much as you should and assignments tend to take a back seat," she said.

She has had to get food packages from the university food bank and says she is living on beans, rice and cornflakes.

Last year 218 food parcels were collected from the AUSA food bank.

There were also 94 hardship grant applications, of which only 41 were successful.

AUSA president Will Matthews says more students are taking on additional debt to live.

He said the average credit card bill for a student was around $1700.

As well as rising rents, students were also battling increases in course costs. The stress was leading to mental health problems for some.

"Since 2009, there has been a 24 per cent increase in students seeking counselling for serious mental issues like depression or anxiety."

It's very expensive to live in Auckland and be studying and it just feels kind of impossible sometimes.
Student Brodie Hoare

Labour's tertiary education spokesman Chris Hipkins says the strain facing a growing number of students was putting some young New Zealanders off seeking higher qualifications.

Labour recently announced if it became the next Government it would introduce a policy providing three free years of post-school study and training.

Mr Joyce said students were able to access a range of support, including interest-free loans, accommodations supplements and benefits.

After reviewing SavY's budget, he said he believed the student body hadn't included some of the available payments in its figures.

But a SavY spokesman said its budget included payments available for the average student.

Mr Joyce said the present Government was the first to increase the amount able to be borrowed for living costs each year by the level of inflation, to ensure students' purchasing power was maintained.

"The student support system has always been based on the idea that students and their families make a contribution to their study costs, including through part-time and holiday work, because of the significant private benefit their study gives them."

The SavY budget used the Studylink calculator, the Barfoot & Thompson website, Trade Me flat listings, and student experience within SavY to prepare the budget.

- NZ Herald

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