New Zealand: Who is the new PM Jacinda Ardern and what is she doing for students?

Jacinda Ardern became NZ PM on Oct 25, 2017. Source: Reuters.
Jacinda Ardern became NZ PM on Oct 25, 2017. Source: Reuters.

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s new Prime Minister, was inaugurated on Oct 25, 2017… and it’s safe to say it’s looking up for students.

So, who is Jacinda Ardern?

At just 37-years-old Ardern is the youngest female PM of NZ in history, and the youngest leader of the NZ Labour Party ever. She took over the party leadership just two months before September’s election.

After a non-conclusive election result Winston Peters, of the New Zealand First party, was given the decision to appoint either Bill English, the National Party or Ardern for Labour.

Labour was able to form a coalition Government with NZ First and the Green Party, with a slim majority in parliament, making Jacinda Ardern the country’s new PM.

“I find Ardern very well spoken and surprisingly charismatic for a PM,” said Gemma MacIntyre, a prospective student from Nelson, NZ, speaking to Study International.

“In some way she has ‘Trumped’ this election in that she came into the race fairly late and fairly unknown, only being appointed the Labour Party’s leader a mere few months before the election,” said MacIntyre.

“Despite this the people of NZ, myself included, like the way she’s a hard hitting politician while still being herself, reminding us very much of John Key (previous National Party Leader and PM).”

Ardern was brought up as a Mormon, but eventually left due to the Church’s anti-homosexuality stance. She is also passionate about women’s rights issues.

Aged just 17, Ardern joined the Labour Party before working in Tony Blair’s cabinet office, and later as a staffer for former NZ PM Helen Clark. In 2008, Ardern was finally elected to Parliament.

She now lives with her partner NZ TV Presenter Clarke Gayford and DJs in her (now ever-decreasing) spare time. Ardern is one of few politicians who speaks openly about mental health, having battled anxiety herself.

A post shared by Jacinda Ardern (@jacindaardern) on

What is Ardern doing for students?

The NZ Labour Party are investing a vast amount of money in education. They have promised three year’s free tuition by 2024. Additionally, an extra NZ$50 (US$35) a week is to be made available in student allowances.

“I’m pro-education,” Astrid Crosland, a Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of Auckland, told Study International. “I think it’s important for people to know what is out there so they can make informed choices throughout their lives.”

“People keep telling me university is supposed to be a time of exploration and discovery but so many bright minds are stuck running numbers so they can make ends meet.”

For those more interested in other education and career routes than university, the Labour Party have  proposed policies which work for them.

They are to introduce a ‘Young Entrepreneurs Policy’, which will allow 18 to 23-year olds to trade in their 3-years-free university education and apply for up to $20,000 to start a new business based on an innovative idea.

The young person applying must have been through an accelerator business-training programme to be eligible. It will be paid for under the policy. They must also have a business mentor and plan which has been accepted by an independent panel of business experts.

Ardern has also pledged to pay approximately NZ$9,500 (US$6,580) to employers for every new young (18-24) apprentice they hire. This investment in apprenticeships will hopefully provide an incentive for more companies to enter into such schemes. 

“Not supporting students financially forces them out of academia,” claimed Crosland.

Many young people find themselves uncertain of what career path they wish to embark on. This indecisiveness can lead to students making the wrong decision when picking what to do after school. The party have therefore proposed an extra NZ$27 million (US$18.7 million) annual expenditure on career advice to secondary school students.

Additionally, there are plans in place to restore previously demolished adult education funding. The party wish to make higher education accessible to those from all age groups and backgrounds.

“Arden and the Labour Party have always been backers for students and as a future student their policys pulled me in,” MacIntyre said.

“I believe that all education should be free, so the fact that a PM had the same belief pulls many of my heartstrings and the young people of NZ’s too.”

Ardern had worried about the high cost of living for students in NZ, who were expected to live on NZ$170 (US$118) weekly. This simply isn’t enough to even cover most students’ rent let alone food and other living costs.

“Some of the brightest young minds are in the same lecture halls as me but I can hardly stand to think how much better we could do as a country if they heard about opportunities and thought ‘I can do that,’ rather than ‘I still need to make money for rent.'” – Astrid Crosland.

Ardern is dedicated to ensuring more students can access higher education without the heavy worry of an abundance of student debt haunting them after graduation.

“The policies will have a definite affect on NZ students for better. How beneficial and how heavily it shall affect students is something that will play out over time, but I believe that with these policies, Ardern has paved a road in which NZ students can carve their own path from,” said MacIntyre.

“Labour is investing in the future generations and young people of NZ,” added MacIntyre. “I think the way Ardern has handled her first few weeks as PM, after the coalition with NZ First and the Green Party to achieve a majority government, has some very positive signs for the future.”

“It seems as if she’s actually doing something, which can be rare in politics.”

MacIntyre believes that Labour’s proposed policies “are vital to NZ moving forward.”

“It can only be beneficial to a country to invest in their young people, and students are a great place to start.”

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