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October 6, 2008 | by  | in News |
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Bring on the election bribes! Nats, NZ First announce student policies

The election-year battle to win student votes has started in earnest among the political parties, with the National and New Zealand First announcing policies aimed at alleviating student debt.

National announced a voluntary bonding scheme for health professional graduates, with the intention of keeping medical workers in the country and helping them pay off their loans.

Under the scheme, a new doctor who worked in short-staffed areas covered by the scheme would receive a $30,000 loan write-off after three years in the job, with additional writeoffs of $10,000 for each additional year – up to two more – that they remained in the role. New nurses and midwives would receive about $3500 in annual write-offs, with the same requirement of having spent three years in the job.

Medical industry reaction to the policy was generally positive, with New Zealand Medical Students’ Association president Anna Dare describing the scheme to The Press as “a significant step towards ensuring a sustainable medical workforce for New Zealand in the short to medium term.”

However, health professionals also noted the importance of taking further steps to keep doctors and other medical workers in New Zealand, such as increasing salaries and funding to medical schools.

Labour responded, saying that the National policy was already in place under the current government. Tertiary Education Minister Pete Hodgson highlighted current bonded scholarships and bonuses for staff in rural areas as examples of National’s policy already in practice.

New Zealand First reaffirmed one of their student policies, stating that they would introduce universal student allowances if elected to Parliament. Party leader Winston Peters said that a universal allowance would encourage more students into tertiary education and “reduce the dependence on loans and the cycle of huge debt that many of our graduates face.”

Hodgson asked the Ministry of Education in July to prepare the figures of the potential cost of a universal allowance, but said that it “should not be construed as a signal” that the government intended to introduce the policy.

The Ministry estimated that a universal allowance would cost $728 million over four years, taking into account a likely drop in borrowing for student loans.

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