The New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) has joined the NZ Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) in welcoming the Government’s announcement that they will extend the student loan borrowing cap for long undergraduate courses.

The coalition government will extend the current student loan borrowing limit for those students in long undergraduate programmes, such as medicine, from the start of 2019, Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced today.

Dr Kate Baddock, NZMA chair, says extending the loan cap will widen the pool of people undertaking medical training by allowing those with training in other fields to pursue a medical or other eligible health science degree.

“This means that we retain and attract those with experience and knowledge (beyond the confines of medicine) and that will significantly benefit our patients and the health of all New Zealanders,” said Baddock.

Currently, students can borrow through the Student Loan Scheme only for up to seven equivalent full-time student (EFTS) years of study, with a few limited exceptions.

Some students reach the limit before they have completed their studies, which presents  financial barriers to the completion of their qualifications.

“Students in long undergraduate programmes are affected by the limits on borrowing disproportionately, compared with students in other programmes,” says Hipkins.

Long undergraduate programmes are single undergraduate qualifications of five EFTS years or more in medicine, dentistry, optometry or veterinary science.

“It is anticipated that around 100 people in 2019 will potentially benefit from this policy change, rising to around 130 people in 2022, and cost $11.7 million in operating spending over the next five financial years, and have an $18.1 million impact on the capital budget,” says Hipkins.

Baddock said NZMA supported the New Zealand Medical Students Association’s previous campaign to raise the limit from seven to eight years’ full-time study and were aware at that time that such a limit would still adversely affect a number of students, so welcomed Hipkins’ announcement.

NZUSA national president Jonathan Gee says allowing our future doctors, vets and dentists to finish their studies is a “no-brainer”.

“We have heard stories of students from disadvantaged backgrounds take a little longer to realise their dreams of entering programmes like medicine. They shouldn’t be denied their dreams due simply to an arbitrary cap.”

Caitlin Barlow-Groome, president of the Otago University Students’ Association (OUSA), says that this announcement is great news for Otago University students given the university’s strengths in medicine and dentistry.

“This announcement is great for these students, especially if they’ve hit the student loan cap due to completing another degree before getting into these competitive programmes.”

Gee says there is still more to be done to remove unfair barriers to education and students are “anxiously waiting” for the removal of other barriers, such as restoring the postgraduate allowance.

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