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Changes will hurt postgrad students

Sarah Robson

Changes to the student allowance scheme will hit postgraduate students in the pocket and may put some off further study.

The changes, which came into effect of January 1, mean students undertaking higher-level study, for example masters or doctoral degrees, are no longer eligible for the student allowance.

It's estimated about 5000 students across the country will be affected by the tightening of the eligibility criteria, which was announced in last year's budget.

Without access to the allowance, postgraduate students will need to find some other way of supporting themselves, either by adding to their student loan, finding part-time work, or deferring study until they can afford it.

"The increased price effectively for doing a postgraduate degree means that for a lot of students, they're going to defer it," Victoria University Students' Association president Rory McCourt told NZ Newswire.

New Zealand Union of Students' Associations president Pete Hodkinson says some postgraduate students don't have the flexibility to work part-time, especially if they're doing professional programmes that require practical placements.

"Many students have expressed that being forced to work 20 or 30 hours a week is detrimental to their studies, which is something that some are going to have to try and do."

Sarah Williamson, who is looking to start her PhD in music at Otago University this year, says that if she doesn't get a scholarship, she will have to add thousands of dollars to her student loan.

"Even if I get a part-time job, they're pretty hard to come by and I don't want anything that will interfere too much with my study," she told NZ Newswire.

"It's not making [postgraduate study] impossible, but it is making it more difficult than I had anticipated it was going to be."

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce says government expenditure on students allowances has increased significantly in recent years, to the point where it is simply not sustainable.

"As a result, the government has sought to focus student allowances more on students from low income families and the early years of study," he said.