New Zealand in "Most Expensive Place to Study" Shock
Ha! According to this article , New Zealand is the most expensive place in the Western world, behind Japan, to undertake university study. An independent study has established that, once the cost of living and the amount of support that comes in the form of loans is factored in, NZ easily beats out supposedly expensive places like the U.S.
I knew there was a reason why I spent good parts of my honours year eating a cup of rice per day and still got saddled with a loan that was growing faster than I could pay it off for my first two years as a hard-working public functionary...
And this comparison is made in today's environment, where students and their families know what to expect, and those currently studying are exempted from paying interest on their loans. I started studying in 1990, against the background of a long history of minimal fees and a universal student allowance. The next year, without any warning, the government allowed fees to increase tenfold and dumped student allowances. But financial support was still available - just sign up for a loan! The catch was that we started paying interest from day one, at a fixed rate of 8%, which for much of the intervening time has been above the market rate. By the time I finished my degree, I'd already been charged thousands of dollars in interest.
Meanwhile, the University Bursary and Scholarship awards, which were originally intended to support high-achieving students, had been allowed to be frittered away to a pittance by inflation. I got an 'A' Bursary and four subject scholarships, which netted me a grand total of $200, almost enough for a couple of textbooks.
My time at university spanned from 1990-94. It wasn't until 1999, with a change of government, that the system was reformed somewhat, with interest rate exemptions and write-offs, and the reintroduction of genuine rewards for doing well at school (I believe a subject scholarship is now worth about $1,000).
Am I bitter and twisted? Hell no. There's no point fretting about the time and place you were born into; we're still amongst the most 0.0000001% most privileged people to have ever lived, as Simon Doherty is fond of saying. And I've never exactly been stopped from doing anything I wanted to do. If I hadn't taken off to travel for 3 years, my loan wouldn't have compounded quite so much or so quickly. Although on the other hand if I'd taken my supervisor's advice and gone off to do a PhD in Philosophy in Indiana it would have grown just the same.
But the revelation that, compared to our OECD cousins, life as a student really is quite tough, makes me feel a bit less guilty about some things. Like quitting my 20-hour per week job at the gas station with its miraculously entrenched penal rates ($13.50 an hour on Sundays!) towards the end of my third year of study. After all, I had worked there four years, and 20 hours a week is substantial - my grades did actually improve afterwards.
It could be argued that NZ only appears to be more expensive than places like the U.S. because the comparison is with public universities. And to get a good education in America you have to pay exorbitant fees for somewhere private, right? Whereas in NZ all the public universities are of a "good standard". Well, I can't speak for the quality of the state universities in the U.S. (though I understand that many of them are very good; my sister is studying law at one right now). But at the University of Canterbury when I was there, I can offer testimony that the English (first-hand) and Modern Languages (second-hand, from my sister) departments were both sub-par. If anyone learnt anything or was stimulated/challenged in stage III English, it certainly wasn't related to the classes. By contrast the Philosophy department, where I ended up doing Honours, was great :)
One more thing - this study is an international one, and I would say has been done principally at the spreadsheet level. It doesn't even take into account the actual conditions students have to live in while they study. There's no way they will have drilled down to the level of analysing:
-what kind of houses do students live inhabit in NZ (old rotting wooden ones)
-what direction do they face (south)
-what is the average temperature in, say, Christchurch, during the winter months (pretty damn cold)
-how much does it cost to properly heat one of these houses (more than students can afford).
OK, so it was never exactly like being a campesino in Juliaca, but the more I think about this, the more self-righteously indignant I get. Could the level of genuine difficulty in getting by be an excuse for why I didn't advance in any sporting, social or cultural fields when I was at university, and didn't really achieve anything apart from passing my courses?
It could be, if it wasn't for the beer...