U Matter survey shows student struggles

A comprehensive survey by Unitec Institute of Technology shows the Auckland’s polytechnic students are doing it tough. Results show students committed to education but struggling to meet basic needs to the point that nearly one-third think seriously about throwing it all in. 

Unitec’s ‘U Matter’ Survey, undertaken by its Business Intelligence team, canvassed nearly 2000 of its students to uncover their experiences and motivations. It challenges a widely-held perception of young school leavers.

More than half of the Auckland polytechnic’s students are adults upskilling, changing careers or having their first go at formal qualifications to improve their lot and better support their families - one in three have at least one financially-dependent child.

And they’re not slackers. Over half of all full time students at the institution are working more than 15 hours per week. This is deemed the tipping point when time in paid work affects academic performance. Nearly one quarter of students balance full-time course work with 21 hours or more of paid work, and that rises steeply to 34% for Pasifika students.

Despite cash flow from loans, family or earnings, one in three students are forgoing necessities of food and hygiene products, or choosing between basic meals or printing assignments.

While the majority of students recognise the long term investment of tertiary education, around one-third have seriously considered dropping out mainly due to financial or work-study-life pressures. For Maori students, nearly one in every two consider withdrawal before course completion and these figures do not include the number who do in fact withdraw.

Wendy Horne, Executive Dean at Unitec, says the U Matter survey findings highlight the need to respond in varied ways. “This brings to light the key role of our pastoral care to help students manage difficulties and realise their educational potential, it reinforces the value of our strong industry connections so work-ready graduates move easily into employment, and signals the real value of the work we are doing around flexible course delivery and scholarships to help maintain an equitable and accessible education system in the face of many pressures.”

Alison Dow, Manager of Student Engagement & Experience, says her team has seen a steady number of hardship cases this year but they have been very surprised by just how widespread significant hardship is across the student community. “We are providing more targeted support to students who are experiencing extreme hardship and continue to put in place better measures – but as we can see the struggles are widespread, a lot of causes of poverty and hardship are outside the control of this institution.”  

The Unitec findings on student finances and employment are supported by the large scale study ‘Laybying our Future: The State of Student Hardship in New Zealand’ authored by the Child Poverty Action Group in 2016 and the recent survey by the NZ Union of Students' Associations.