Chlöe Swarbrick launches petition for more COVID-19 student support, says Government's $20 million boost not enough

The Green Party has launched a petition calling for immediate and meaningful support for students during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Green Party tertiary education spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick launched the petition on Wednesday, saying the Government's announced boost to the student hardship fund doesn't go far enough.

On Wednesday, Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced a boost of $20 million into the Hardship Fund for Learners, which he says will help around 15,000 students. 

"We know a strong public health response is the best approach to COVID-19, and we know that in taking swift, decisive action we give our tertiary students the best chance to return to their studies in workshops, classrooms and lecture theatres," Hipkins said in a statement. 

He said the additional money will be paid to tertiary providers who will distribute it to the students. The money can be used by any student who is facing hardship that interferes with their study.

Hipkins said it can be used to address financial challenges or for technology-related costs where COVID-19 restrictions remove options for face-to-face study.

"Because students' needs are diverse, this funding is flexible. Tertiary providers understand the needs of their students and will distribute it in the way that is most suitable. Learners may receive either cash grants, or goods/services purchased on their behalf," Hipkins said. 

But Swarbrick said the boost isn't enough especially because many students cannot access other support such as the wage subsidy. 

"COVID-19 has impacted so many of our vulnerable communities disproportionately and students have been hit hard. We believe all students should have access to direct financial support so that they can continue to study safely during these difficult times."

She said students are already facing high living costs and the lockdown has exacerbated things for them. 

"The Government's announcement today to top up university-facilitated hardship grants doesn't go far enough to support the quarter of a million students across Aotearoa.

"Many students report access to these funds requires a substantial amount of time and energy, and that it can feel deeply embarrassing to have to prove just how poor they are to access them.

"We're asking for immediate, direct financial support available for all students. While a guaranteed minimum income would be the best-case scenario, at the very least, the Government can pull the same lever it did last year during lockdown and double the borrowing allowance for course-related costs.

"It's time to remind the Government of the power of 250,000 students and demand meaningful support."

Auckland is in COVID-19 alert level 4 until at least Monday while the rest of the country has just shifted to level 2.