Student support: What is it good for? and how much do we spend?

Scott Willan
November 23, 2016

It’s no secret that education is expensive. The average tertiary student, myself included, spends over $8K a year on course fees. On top of this, there are living costs, course related costs, food costs, and travel costs. Luckily our government helps us cope with these costs through interest-free loans and student allowance. There are many other support systems available, but I will be focusing on these two for the sake of simplicity.
What I am going to attempt to answer (via a series of blogs and visualisations) is why? I may sound cynical, but there’s no such thing as a free lunch after all. So why does the government lend such a helping hand to our youths? What do we provide for the country in exchange for interest free loans and free money? Before I get into the nitty gritty figures and statistics, I want to set clear just how much the government spends on students each year. What better way to do this than with a light-hearted blog and graphic to physically quantify how much the government spends. I will use measurements commonly used in New Zealand. Sky Towers to measure height, Auckland-to-Sydneys for distance, and rugby fields for area.
If you’re not concerned with the exact amounts spent, feel free to skip this next part. TL;DR it’s $2B (short form).
In 2013, 416,415 individuals enrolled in tertiary education. Almost half of these students received help from the government through the student support system. 83,220 students received and average allowance of $6,850 and 191,958 students received an average loan of $8440. So, if we do the simple maths (average*cardinality) we get $570,057,000 spent on allowance, and $1,620,125,520 spent on loan.
So how do we go about physically quantifying ~$2.2B? Let’s start by withdrawing it in $5 notes to maximise materials and get 438,036,504 notes. We can then stack each note on top of each other to make a tower. With a conservative estimate of 0.1mm thick, we can make a 43.8km tall tower.
But what if we’re not going for height but for distance? If we stick all 135mm long notes together end to end to make a money-rope, we get a length of 5,913.5km. That’s long enough to reach Australia or Papua New Guinea.
So, we’ve covered length and height, but what about area? Before I bore you with details, it equates to 3,902,900m squared which, in kiwi units, is about 462 rugby fields. Our problem to begin with was not being able to think about a number as big as 2.2 billion and now I’ve just given you three big numbers. So below is a more visual representation that we can all more easily relate to.


Now that we’ve had a bit of fun converting a huge sum of money into everyday units, it’s time for the real data. What happens to this money? How much of it is lost and what do we get back from it? These are a few questions I am look into explaining in my next blog of this series.

From hard data to fluid design – Scott

Scott blogs about how design and making things look good no matter if its a website or data. He is great at making data consumable and therefore valuable.

Connect with Scott on LinkedIn or read his other blogs here.

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