Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Top students better off with salaries

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A leading academic has challenged claims allowance cuts to postgraduate students threaten New Zealand’s future research ability.

A survey of 202 students conducted by Victoria University PhD students on the impact of cuts to postgraduate allowances revealed over half of those surveyed would be “severely disadvantaged” by the changes.

Those changes include a removal of eligibility for student allowances for postgraduate study, aimed at saving $33 million over four years. Parental income thresholds have also been frozen for four years, and no allowances are to be paid after four years of study.

However, Waikato University professor of agribusiness Jacqueline Rowarth doubts that payment of postgraduate allowances necessarily increases the quality of postgraduate studies being completed.

“The point is the top students are getting scholarships, and if they are not you have to ask if they are good enough to be doing the work in the first place. You can get some earnest people going through, but not necessarily the best ones for postgraduate research,” she said.

Rowarth said the real challenge for tertiary institutions was to be able to offer positions to postgraduates that paid serious salaries.

“When you have banks and fertiliser companies offering graduates salaries in the $50,000s after six months, and a complete package including a vehicle of $70,000, how could you stay for further study?”

She wanted to see more postgraduate students getting “absolutely top money” for staying in their research-study positions.

“Otherwise the opportunity cost of staying is huge.”

Her own experience in the 1980s had her receiving a scholarship valued over $90,000. She wanted to see more research organisations teaming up with universities to offer attractive postgraduate remuneration, making the appeal of staying in study, and in NZ, greater.

In late November Auckland University announced a new postgraduate school in dairy research that aims to team up with industry groups including LIC and DairyNZ to provide research project work and study for students.

The president of the New Zealand Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science (NZIAHS) Dr David Lewis said anything that detracts from already lower numbers of agricultural and horticultural postgraduate students studying was unwelcome.

However, he believed student allowance levels would not be the final determinant of a decision to do postgraduate work.

“What struck me though was there were people who had made their decision to stay and do post-grad work; only to have the rules changed on them part way through. There seemed a level of unfairness there.”

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