Tertiary Education Minister Michael Cullen has announced a funding review for medical and dental students in response to a study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal.
The study indicates that debt levels for medical programmes are contributing to a nationwide shortage in the medical workforce. It says high fees are discouraging students from pursuing such courses of study and encouraging graduates to repay their debts by working overseas.
“Students with high debt are increasingly taking remuneration into consideration when choosing their specialty,” says New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) chairman Dr Ross Boswell. “It is especially worrying that only nine per cent of graduates choose general practice as their preferred specialty, when at present GPs make up 40 per cent of the medical workforce in New Zealand and recent studies inform us that the GP workforce is already declining”.
New Zealand University Students’ Association (NZUSA) Co-President Conor Roberts says that while they are pleased with Dr Cullen’s announcement, it is paramount that changes do result from the review. “He must ensure that action is taken to significantly reduce the enormous cost incurred by students,” says Roberts. “Medical students face significant fees, with graduates owing on average $65,000 when they finish. Although the Government has increased the subsidy per student, we’re well behind [other countries].”
According to the study, New Zealand’s medical tuition fees are 40 per cent higher than in Australia and would be considered high by US and Canadian standards. It also reports that 13 per cent of New Zealand medical students owe in excess of $100,000.
The review will be conducted by officials from the Tertiary Education Commission and Ministry of Education. A report is expected by the Minister later this year to ensure any changes will be in place for the following academic year.