Loan repayments lift after appeal

Student loan repayments have increased $2.5 million since Kiwi graduates living overseas were urged to support the Christchurch earthquake.

New Zealander of the Year Sir Paul Callaghan launched an appeal in March to the more than 85,000 expatriates with students loans, particularly the 35,000 behind in their repayments.

He said graduates living abroad owed more than $2 billion, which was nearly 30 per cent of the $7b New Zealand taxpayers would have to contribute to the rebuilding.

Speaking at Lincoln University yesterday, Callaghan said Inland Revenue's March figures showed a $2.5m increase in loan payments on the same period last year. About 1000 additional debtors made payments.

Although the effect of his Heroic Education Kiwi Expatriates (Heke) initiative could not be separated out, the result was "encouraging", he said.

"It's $2m out of $2b, but as I always said, it's better than a cake stall," Callaghan said.

"The main purpose of [Heke] was to get a conversation going around this because I think Christchurch is a game changer for all of us in New Zealand."

The Victoria University professor said he was not working as a government advocate or using the quake to make students feel guilty.

Student feedback had been "about 80 per cent positive".

"I'm not acting for IRD, but they're not bad people, they've got a job to do. I'm just making this an appeal on a personal level."

Lincoln University Students' Association president Ivy Harper, who attended Callaghan's address yesterday, welcomed the debate the Heke initiative had generated.

However, student debt forced many graduates to work overseas, she said.

"I wanted [Callaghan] to acknowledge that New Zealand also needed to change, so that students don't go away with their huge loans, and we break the cycle."

Students were already "doing their bit" by assisting with the cleanup effort, Harper said.

The Press