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Student debt reaches $9 billion

Anna Duggan



National day of mourning to be observed Wednesday
Debt Day, a day to mark student debt reaching the $9 billion mark, will be held on Wednesday.

Known as the ‘National Day of Action’, New Zealand Union of Students Associations (NZUSA) has distributed a campaign kit to campuses around the country.
VUWSA President Geoff Hayward says he anticipates a variety of different efforts from students’ associations nationwide to help raise public awareness that borrowing to live is “actually begging”.
Hayward says VUWSA and Massey University Wellington’s Students’ Association (M@WSA) will be making a coordinated effort on Debt Day, with students heading onto city streets to share with the public the need to ‘beg’ for money “for a glass of milk and a roof over their heads”.
Auckland University Students’ Association will hold “a memorial service to commemorate the death of a universal, free, publicly funded and high quality tertiary education system”, complete with a free BBQ and a band in their quad, and Otago University’s student magazine, Critic, told Salient: “We’re having a party! Balloons and cake, that sort of thing. And a guy running around in our green debt monster suit, of course.”
In previous years, such significant points in student debt have been marked with protests. The first of April marks one year since the Government introduced interest-free student loans. While this move helps students who are studying and those who remain in New Zealand after graduation, the amount being borrowed is increasing and debt continues to grow.
Some help for graduates paying off interest on their loans comes after the Government announcement of student loan interest rates being dropped from 6.9% to 6.8% for 2007–2008.
A bill was also passed last week to amend the student loan framework to include a ‘repayment holiday’ of up to three years for borrowers who are overseas, new repayment obligations, and extension of the amnesty for people having difficult making payments.
NZUSA Co-President Josh Clark says while the interest-free loan policy is “great”, student debt still needs to be addressed and the Government needs to work with NZUSA and other student groups to see what initiatives can be put in place.
NZUSA will continue to put pressure on the Government for universal student allowances, as Clark says it is “unfair that students have to borrow to live” and that it is “ridiculous that students are means tested up to the age of 25” to receive a student allowance.