29 Jul 2015

Hardship goes on past graduation

7:10 am on 29 July 2015

Recent graduates say their financial welfare has remained grim even after they've left university.

A new survey has revealed the number of students in financial distress has more than doubled since 2012, while 26 percent more students sought counselling in 2013, compared to 2010.

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The New Zealand Union of Students Associations survey showed nearly 44 percent of full time students said they did not have enough money to meet their basic needs. One in five students who dropped out of study said they did so for financial reasons.

Art history graduate Octavia Palmer said she had had to abandon her dream of pursuing a Masters degree, something necessary to work in her field, because the student allowance did not cover post-graduate study.

She now works part-time as a cleaner, and is doubtful she can find other work.

"I apply for about four or five jobs every day. I basically wake up in the morning and I look for jobs, and I look for jobs in the evenings," she said.

Ms Palmer said she was fearful of disclosing she has Asperger's Syndrome in her applications, even though she needed help.

"I needed assistance in university to transition into the workforce, which they didn't provide, but I also need assistance from potential employers as well.

"I'm not willing to really admit to being Asperger's because that would immediately put them off, so I'm not sure where to go.

"Do I have to become self employed or do I have to just accept my lot in life? I really don't know."

24-year-old pharmacist Abdulrahman Eraki said while he was doing okay now with his new business, he had to work to support his family while he was studying.

"I've got a single mother that's looking after four kids. I always did actually have a part-time job during my studies.

"I'd always work weekends and during holidays I'd work seven days or whatever hours I could get."

Mr Eraki said many of his colleagues had found it impossible to stay in Auckland with the rising number of pharmacy graduates.

Heavy debt

Mirabel Sygrove graduated with a degree in counselling but paints houses to make ends meet.

She said she wasn't able to apply for allowance while studying because her mother's income was too high, even though she could not live at home.

The 24-year-old said she now had a student loan of $50,000, most of which had been for extra living costs.

"You kind of gamble it all on your future, thinking that once you get out with your ticket you can have a decent paying job and you can actually start paying off your debt, but so far it's just sitting there."

Now, however she could not even find work at the universities that taught her course.

"They want someone with that experience. They train you up, yet they're not willing to hire someone fresh out of uni, so that's hypocritical in some ways," she said.

"Having that sort of debt over your head as a young adult trying to start out and get on your feet is pretty intimidating, really."

Worried parents

Radio New Zealand was also inundated with messages from parents concerned about their children.

Chris Price said her daughter, who studied at Massey University in Palmerston North, lived in a flat so cold and damp that she spent most of her time in the library because it was warm.

"Her clothes go mildewy in her wardrobe and she is constantly sick. She uses her hair dryer to warm her clothes in the morning."

Ms Price said her daughter was actively discriminated against by real estate agents, who treated her and other students with contempt and did not let them apply for good houses.

"My daughter was once told, 'well you can fill out the form but I'm telling you now, you won't be considered'. It makes me very angry."

One parent said their dyslexic child was forced to re-sit some papers, which increased their university costs and held them back.

"Working was not an option with a condition like this - they lived frugally and still continue with poor lowly paid work in the agricultural sector."

Another parent said their son qualified for a student loan as well as an allowance, but they still had to support him financially because he still couldn't afford his student housing costs.