Call for expats to repay student loans as quake aid

Kiwi graduates living overseas are being asked to repay their student loans to help the Government cover the cost of rebuilding Christchurch.

New Zealander of the Year Sir Paul Callaghan is making a worldwide appeal to more than 85,000 expatriate New Zealanders with students loans, and particularly the 35,000 who are 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.

"If we were to get everyone to contribute even a little, then the effect would be hugely helpful," said Callaghan, a physicist who was knighted in 2009.

Repaying the loans would help New Zealand recover from the February 22 earthquake and save the students money because they were still accumulating interest, he said.

"You would not only save yourself interest, but you would be acting heroically to help save your country."

The initiative, called Heke (Heroic Education Kiwi Expatriates), was from the academic community and was not from the Government, he said.

In a letter to expat graduates, Callaghan asked them to think of his request less in terms of an obligation and more as a chance to make a difference.

"If, like so many Kiwis abroad, you feel frustrated in not being able to help Christchurch enough, then I would ask you to consider what I am proposing," he said.

"If only a few respond, the effect will be significant, but if most of you do, then you will make history and your contribution will be the stuff of legend."

Canterbury Student Army co-ordinator Sam Johnson said thousands of expat graduates had been in contact with him through the student army's Facebook page to find out how they could help, and Heke was a great way to do that.

Canterbury University vice-chancellor Rod Carr said encouraging graduates to pay off their student loans was a good idea under any circumstances.

The initiative would not directly benefit Christchurch, but New Zealand as a whole would be better off.

A website, www.heke.ac.nz, has been created, along with a Facebook page, to help spread the message.

The Press