Friday, January 11, 2013

Student loans in New Zealand. Could someone please explain!

The figures used in for Student Loans in the Herald today seem almost beyond belief. That someone can owe One million Dollars by 2040, all for quite a small initial ‘loan’ seems quite ridiculous. If the figures quoted are true, one only needs to extrapolate that and we would have a generation (or more) of citizens who see no reason to ‘try’ to pay back the ballooning loan.

The ‘loan’ as reported is reason enough to take a long hard look at the system of student loans in New Zealand. There has to be a better and fairer way. We do not want a generation of angry, hopeless students going on to spend their whole lives paying back the loans.

I have heard other examples of course, whereby students have found high- paying holiday jobs and managed to avoid the whole process of the student loan debacle. I would say that’s almost the same as saying that---‘Hey, I’m a multi-millionaire, so if I can do it, anyone can.’ Those jobs quoted do exist but not in the numbers needed to allow students to have no or very small loans.

We often see young people pointing the finger at those of us who came through a kinder regime saying, ---- ‘You guys had it easy. You virtually received your tertiary education free, so don’t tell us we are selfish.’ There is quite a ring of truth about that statement. The only difference was that back then, it was actually harder to gain entry to a university education.

The term ‘tertiary’ has expanded and now covers a far wider spread of entry requirements as the ‘Industry’ has ramped up to put ‘bums on seats,’ for funding purposes. Successive government have encouraged this, may I say somewhat cynically, for reasons of disguising youth unemployment as much as a real need for a better skilled and changing workforce.

We must review the whole system and employ the age old method of ‘bonding’ young (and older) learners so that the State pays the majority of their education and then receives a varying amount of time spent in NZ as a return. (A combination of both systems may even work.) That time would depend on the amount spent for the education. It would also break the current trend for the ‘richer’ to achieve those higher paying and traditionally difficult to attain qualifications, like being a doctor or lawyer. Teaching was a good example of ‘bonding.’ Bring it back.

Apprentices in the old sense of the word were more often than not ‘trained on the job,’ with a component of the training undertaken in short ‘block courses.’ Nurse training was also undertaken in a similar way, but I would be the first to admit that the complexity of modern nursing now demands a higher level of training; one that is primarily achieved through our well set up tertiary institutions.

Businesses seem to have shied away from the old fashioned ‘learn as you work’ approach. They say they are too busy to do that now. The plumbers, builders and other trades, all seem to be trained in technical institutes now. There have been attempts to play around the edges re training ‘tradespeople,’ but would it not be a good idea to return to that which we know worked well? It would take a mind shift on the part of prospective trainers/businesses though.

In the end it is all about money and the willingness of employers to take on young people and nurture them. If we wish to have a skilled and happy workforce, we all need to think about where we are going and not leave it all to the politicians to fiddle while ‘Rome burns.’ It is step-up time.’