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Free tertiary study could allow student parents "to reach any goal they want"

Kimihia Parents' College Head Teacher Diane Atkins said free tertiary will bring choices and opportunity for student parents.  Laura Cunningham

A Christchurch mother hopes the Ministry of Social Development will change its attitude to helping solo parents get an education, post-election.

The Labour Government promised one-year free tertiary education starting next year, and would increase it to three years by 2024.

One young solo mother studying her post-graduate at the University of Canterbury said free tertiary would have worked wonders for her.

She expected the Labour Government would be more focused on helping solo parents get an education than National was.

She said MSD stuff judged her when she chose to do post-graduate study after having a child, and did not think the MSD focused on better outcomes for her or her child. 

"National just said get off this benefit and work fulltime. When would I see my child?"

The ministry loaned up to $500 a week for solo parents who studied below a post-graduate level.

MSD has been approached for further comment.

Kimihia Parents’ College is a Christchurch college for 14 to 19-year-old women who fall pregnant and become parents through high school.

Head Teacher Diane Atkins said eight out of ten leaving students were going on to at least one year of tertiary study.

Atkins said student loans for student parents was a huge barrier, and pursuing longer degrees was not seen as an option.

"They just see it as another debt, [and] they haven’t got much money to start with."

Atkins said many student parents did not realise what they were capable of, and free tertiary would be "wonderful" for increasing their confidence and employability.

"It would allow them to reach any goal they want for themselves."

However, Atkins said for some student parents the income lost while studying would still not make it worthwhile.

She said there will always be parents that have to work straight away in order to put food on the table.

Watch or read more from Diane Atkins here:

Universities New Zealand director Chris Whelan said for the majority of students, "significantly better employment and earning opportunities" made the income lost while studying worthwhile.

He said students were three times more likely to be employed once they gained a tertiary qualification.

The typical degree holder would earn $1.4 million over their working life and broke even at around 33.

National tertiary education spokesman Paul Goldsmith said the policy could lead to a 15 per cent increase or 46,000 extra students in a matter of weeks.

He said this would lead to overcrowded labs and lecture theatres.

Overcrowded schools was what put many of Atkins students behind and drove them out of mainstream high schools in the first place, Atkins said.

Goldsmith said other questions "such as whether a course is free if a student fails to finish it are yet to be answered adequately".