Yesterday in parliament, a punitive law was passed to ‘crack down’ on overseas student loan borrowers. It increased the repayment responsibilities of graduates living overseas, and means that they can be arrested at the border for not paying back their student loan.
When these changes were first announced in last years’ budget, I received an email from a family living in the United States, who were deeply concerned about the effect this would have on them.
Because of this bill, their minimum annual repayments will go up from $6000 to $9000 a year. At the current exchange rates, that means they will be paying approximately 19 percent of their income towards their student loan debt, with no means testing, no consideration of the fact that only one of them is in paid work, and no consideration that they have two dependents.
This family has a strong intention of returning to New Zealand. They fully intend to repay their loans, and are currently compliant with all their loan obligations. But the new repayments are totally unaffordable for this family, and they can’t see a way to meet them that won’t break their budget. If they default on them, they could now be arrested at the border when they try to come home to New Zealand.
This new law is another in a series from this Government that tinkers around the edges of the fundamentally broken Student Loan Scheme. Their focus has been on trying to wring every last dollar from students and graduates, without looking at the bigger picture of why and how we fund tertiary education.
It is symptomatic of a Government that does not value tertiary education as a public good, sees student support as a political nuisance, and sees student loan scheme amendment bills like this as opportunities to put the screws on graduates and squeeze more and more students out of eligibility for support.
We have the opportunity to design modern, smart, fair tertiary and student support. The Green Party in Government would grasp this opportunity with both hands and invest in our future by investing in students.