New measures to encourage the repayment of student loans are "firm but fair", but distract from the real issues facing tertiary education, a Waikato student leader says.
Student loan borrowers who persistently refuse to make repayments will soon be dealt with under the Student Loan Scheme Amendment Bill (No 3).
The bill was introduced in August last year and passed through the final stages at Parliament on Thursday afternoon.
From April 1, Inland Revenue will be able to seek an arrest warrant to deal with serious defaulters and the repayment rates of those with loan balances of more than $45,000 will be increased.
Waikato Students' Union president Aaron Letcher said the measures were "firm but fair".
"There is an implied social contract that students will repay their loans, not to mention a written and legally binding one. Students need to stand up and be accountable for their decisions.
"It won't make criminals out of a generation, it will make criminals out of those that break the law."
However, the student union boss said the policy was an election year distraction from issues like the access, cost and quality of tertiary education - which the union wanted to be debated nationally.
"There are students who manage their debts; students who get second and third jobs to avoid a student loan altogether; and students who are actually going to struggle to pay off this debt for the rest of their lives. It's time we started talking about it more," Mr Letcher said.
Student issues went far beyond loans and included the quality of education, student accommodation, and representation on university councils, he said.
And fundamental aspects of student culture were being lost - such as the print version of Massey University's student magazine, cut due to a lack of funding.
"We hear stories of students not having access to advocacy, representation or events all the time and no-one is talking about it.
"But if some kid has a house party that gets broken up at 10pm, it's front page news."
- Waikato Times