Medical student life appears less and less appealing

Postgrad students must find the final $20,000 of course fees

Studylink’s current student loan policy finds many medical students having to find the final $20,000 to fund their last year of school. As the policy currently stands, students can borrow money for the equivalent of seven years of full-time study (7EFTS). This means that students doing long-course degrees, such as medicine and dentistry, may not be eligible for a student loan in their last year. This is a particular problem for the 30 per cent of medical students who entered the faculty as postgraduate students, and for those who wish to graduate with Honours.

Critic spoke to New Zealand Medical Students’ Association (NZMSA) Dunedin representative Tash Austin about the policy, which was introduced by the National government in 2010. It was intended to encourage students to finish their degrees as quickly as possible, “however, [medical] students are doing just that!” Austin says. Because of this, “students would have to come up with around $25,000 per year for fees and living costs.” The worst-case scenario is that students taking long courses will be forced to leave university because they cannot afford to continue this study. “We aren’t talking just a couple of students; this is going to cause a huge blow to the healthcare sector … there may be the option to take a year off to save up for the final year, but this kind of disruption to studies is not ideal,” Austin says.

The 7EFTS rule is having an effect on medical faculties nationwide and many students seem to be unaware of the policy. Alex Hedley, NZMSA 7EFTS officer, told Critic that 41 per cent of new medical students surveyed had not heard of the 7EFTS policy. As well as that, 20 per cent of students surveyed knew of someone who had been put off from entering medicine because of the policy, which is of a concern to NZMSA. “There are students in this 20 per cent that add diversity to the class. They come from low socio-economic, rural, Maori, and Pacific Island backgrounds,” Hedley says.

NZMSA have been campaigning strongly for a change in the policy, especially in the run-up to this year’s election. “Our ideal outcome is an exemption on the 7EFTS cap for [medical] students,” Hedley says. Austin adds, “At a politics forum run by OUMSA and NZMSA earlier in the year, all parties represented committed to changing the gap or making an exception for long-course students … However, National (despite being approached numerous times) is yet to make that commitment.”

“It's important to point out that we are not asking for ‘free' money from the government; we are merely asking for a loan which we’ll be willing to pay back after entering paid employment,” Hedley says. “Until we are able to graduate that will be difficult.”
This article first appeared in Issue 22, 2014.
Posted 11:52pm Sunday 7th September 2014 by Nina Harrap.