Should New Zealanders be entitled to Australian student loans?

Although tough measures against refugee boat arrivals sometimes give the opposite impression, Australian migration rules overall are about as liberal as they have been since federation. We have multiple uncapped long-term although often temporary visa categories including New Zealanders, 457 work visa holders, international students, and working holiday visas. At the end of 2014, there were nearly 1.4 million people in the country on these visas. Only a small number of people seem to be really thinking through the implications of such a large number, although ad hoc issues come up regularly.

One of these is the status of long-term New Zealand residents of Australia in Australian higher education institutions, a subject mentioned in today’s Australian. Contrary to what the article says, New Zealanders are entitled to subsidised places in Australian public universities, as Australians are in New Zealand universities. However, New Zealanders are not entitled to the HELP student loan schemes, and therefore must pay their student contributions or fees up-front. Australians can borrow in New Zealand if they have lived there for at least three years.

The available statistics don’t tell us exactly the scale of the issue, but in 2013 there were 16,400 New Zealand-born people enrolled as ‘domestic’ students and 16,400 full-time equivalent students paying undergraduate student contributions up-front because they were not entitled to HECS-HELP. There is a bit of coincidence in the numbers as the latter figure includes permanent residents from other countries, while the former number includes postgraduates. But many New Zealanders who have been in Australia for much of their lives, went to Australian schools, talk with Australian accents, and consider themselves Australian for most purposes will nevertheless be paying upfront.

The policy intent behind this rule is reasonable enough. It’s one of several measures designed to ensure that people unlikely to be paying taxes in Australia, and therefore unlikely to repay HELP loans, don’t get to borrow (although it raises the question of if they are not going to stay, why give them any support at all?). But it is out of alignment with the social reality of many of the people it affects.

This has been recognised by the government, and they have an amendment that would allow New Zealanders who have been here ten years or more to be eligible for HELP loans. Unfortunately it is embedded in the ill-fated Pyne higher education reform package bill, and so unlikely to pass the Senate. It’s another reason why we need a three bills strategy to get higher education policy moving again, with this amendment going in a Budget measures bill.

It’s also worth noting that this would have been much less of an issue in the first place if we had measures to collect HELP debt from people living overseas. There are already signs that Australia and New Zealand are moving to assist each other in getting student debt repaid. If international repayment mechanisms were in place, we could have a more integrated Australia-New Zealand higher education market with short waiting times on student eligibility.

  1. It should also be noted that as well as having to pay their fees up front, in some states NZ citizens have been stripped of their student travel concession.

  2. Abbott and Key agreed in Feb 2014 to allow New Zealanders access to HELP. Pyne needs to make it a sepatate amendment though. It’s doomed if it remains part of the Higher Education Reform Bill…

    The high cost of tertiary education, without a HELP loan, is a barrier to education and leads to NZ students disengaging from school and high youth unemployment.

  3. I am one of these New Zealand citizens living in Australia. Have lived here for 11 years and raised three children here. I have three degrees, work hard in the public health system and own property here. But I am single parent and struggle to make ends meet, and somehow I must find twenty thousand a year to fund university education for two of my children, with a third planning to study as well. I can’t do it and am at my wits end. Travel up to university from the regional area where we live is $20.00 per day per child as they don’t even get concession travel. We are not tax dodgers, people who live on the dole etc yet we are treated like second class citizns. I cant bare the thought of uprooting my family but am seriously starting to wonder if we should try to return to New Zealand. I have applied for permanent residency but it cost me so much that now there is no money to pay the uni fees mid year and I am wondering if it was just a mistake. Christopher Pyne do something to help honest hard working New Zealanders who just want a fair go. If Australians can get student loans after living in New Zealand for only three years as well as youth allowance it is only fair to do the same here!

    • Jennifer, did you ever visit or live in Australia prior to 1 Sept 1994? Even if you were a child or travelling on a parents passport you are eligible for a Resident Return Visa (RRV) which is a permanent visa.

      I holidayed for 10 days in Jan 1994 and was granted RRV in 2013, now I’m a citizen. PM OzKiwi2001 or email [email protected] for more information.

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