Psychology students want student loans cap lifted

George Guthrie and Irie Schimanski – Maori and general student representatives of the New Zealand College of Clinical Psychology – are lobbying the Government to change the rules/criteria around student loans.
ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff
George Guthrie and Irie Schimanski – Maori and general student representatives of the New Zealand College of Clinical Psychology – are lobbying the Government to change the rules/criteria around student loans.

Having a cap on student loans creates a financial barrier for those wanting to train as clinical psychologists and that disproportionately impacts Māori students, five psychology interns say.

The interns have written to the Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins, asking for the seven equivalent full-time student (EFTS) limit for student loans to be removed for clinical psychology students. 

There is a critical shortage of psychologists in New Zealand, with some estimates suggesting more than 900 are needed. And only 5 per cent of the psychology workforce in Aotearoa is Māori.

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Of the current batch of psychology interns, 8.2 per cent are Māori, psychology intern Irie Schimanski (Te Ātiawa, Ngāi Tahu) said.

‘’Student loan caps create such a privileged profession and an inequitable workforce, particularly for those who experience financial difficulty, especially Māori and Pasifika.’’

This creates an ‘’inequitable barrier’’ to those who are financially unable to complete the study, thus limiting diversity, and representation of Māori, within the profession, he said.

‘’It is recognised that financial difficulties disproportionately impact on Māori students within clinical psychology programmes.’’

Seven-EFTS is equal to seven or eight years study and is the limit for receiving a student loan. Depending on the course, studying to be a clinical psychologist can take longer

Schimanski, who grew up in Waitara, said that financially things had been difficult for him.

‘’I have worked throughout my qualification to keep myself financially afloat, which adds a lot of stress and time commitments on top of studying. Luckily, when you get into an internship you get paid.’’

Not being able to get a student loan means students have to get financial help from other sources, such as loan sharks, or they take on extra work, or need to take years off from study in order to save up, so they can fund the rest.

‘’People who are choosing to apply for these programmes usually come from quite privileged positions, so by having financial barriers we know that this disproportionally affects Māori and Pasifika students.’’

In the letter the students said ‘’in combination, substantial lengths of study and the lack of sufficient scholarships to support all students results in an unfortunate financial burden, which is the largest reported area of concern for our students”.

Psychology intern Taylor-Jane Cox said they were not asking for free money, just a loan to enable students to finish their degrees.

‘’It takes a long time to get this degree. It is a hard degree with limited spaces.’’

Students in other health courses, such as medicine, had a guaranteed extension pathway, Cox said.

‘’We want the same treatment – a guaranteed extension, so that when you apply for clinical you know you are going to get your student loan covered all the way through.’’

The length of study to be a clinical psychologist depends on the course.

‘’All programmes are different but you need at least bachelors with honours before you can even apply.’’

Cox has been studying for eight years and has a student loan of $100,000.

‘’I have never had a student allowance, so I have always relied on a loan. It is different for everyone.’’

A spokesperson for the minister said Hipkins had asked officials for advice on the proposal.

‘’Any changes to limits on student loan borrowing would need to be made as part of a Budget process.’’