For many of us whose uni years are well behind us, we look back fondly on our student accommodation days. We will remember halls of residence, cafeteria meals, sharing a bathroom with maybe 8-10 others, and for some, shared rooms. It might sound like a nightmare to those who have never done it (and yes you grow out of it) but at the time it was really quite fun. It’s a time of new friends, relationships, self discovery and learning – an introduction to a world of possibility.
In a recent article, Gavin Poole set out the difficulties with living in Auckland as a student. Many commenters gave him a hard time.
“Kingsland!? Why are you demanding a flat in the center of the city? Stop your moaning until you accept that real people commute and students don’t have any special rights to have prime real estate for discount prices. Go rent in Avondale, there’s a train. I’m sorry but this is just self entitled garbage. Use your tertiary years to grow up. The majority of students have always commuted, the only new thing here is the misguided sense of self entitlement.”
“Stop trying to look in Kingsland. Forget about needing to be where all the “Action” is, and move further out. Generations before you did, and are still doing it.”
The thing is, 20 years ago, you could get room and board (including meals) in university accommodation for around $170-$180 a week. The living costs portion of a student loan was $150 per week. Today, in Auckland, it can cost between $240 and $310 a week for uni accommodation (depending on the room size) – without food. Looking at the catered options, you’re looking at between $300 and $375 a week. Anyway, students can get a loan for living costs of up to $177 a week. You see the problem, right?
Just by the numbers, students are doing it way harder today than they ever have. And it’s only going to get worse. Examining suggestions to live further out (“Go rent in Avondale, there’s a train”) reveals that life doesn’t get a whole lot cheaper if you do. Say, you get a 3 bedroom place for $480 a week, which is do-able (not easy, with competition and viewing logistics, but do-able) in places like Avondale, Pt England, Otahuhu, Mangere, Panmure etc. Split in 3, that’s $160 a week. Add around $40 a week for expenses (electricity, internet, insurance etc). That train fare? A little under $50 a week if you get a monthly pass (assuming you can ever afford to spend $200 at once).
So, around $250 a week – with 10-15 hours a week travelling. I know, only the self-entitled would complain about that, right? Well, it’s a challenge when you also have to travel to and hold down that job to earn the $180 a week you need to make rent, pay expenses and feed yourself – all while studying enough to make the $5,000 – $6,000 in course fees worth it. This is just living, not partying it up.
If we compare that to coming up with $20 or $30 a week needed in the 90s to bridge the gap between what the student loan provides and what was needed to live (plus maybe another $60 for a bit of fun), it’s unquestionably harder today than it used to be. A hospo job over the summer, a clerical temping job over the mid-year break, some cold-calling telemarketing work selling home security systems and/or some work during semester were enough to get you by back in the day – with the odd $20 from Mum and Dad the day before payday when things were a bit despo.
Why, then, do so many people insist on revising history to exaggerate the difficulties they faced? It seems like the longer ago people studied, the harder they think they had it but the reality is this: compared to today, student life was easy street and the further you go back, the easier it was. It took management, yes. It took additional work, yes. It took a bit of discipline and saving, yes. And there were times when things were really, really tight. But it was nothing like today. Now, you can do all of those things and still not have enough to get by.
Affordable student accommodation in Auckland is the consequence of broader problems – with both housing and the education system. But we need to do something – starting with having a bit more compassion for these young people. If you’re tempted to reply to that call with “it’s supply and demand – deal with it”, consider your own interests. We need to grow and retain Auckland’s talent – not just for them, but for all of us. We need teachers, nurses and other essential professions that support the health and wellbeing of our society, along with those who will create new businesses and jobs.
Help us gather the views of New Zealanders on the shape of the future higher education by answering our survey. We’re offering prizes including $1000 to support education (this could include rent contributions). Terms and conditions apply.
Together, we believe we can make things better. Way better.