On the surface, you would think there would be nothing controversial about the call from New Zealander of the Year, Sir Paul Callaghan, for ex-pat student loan debtors to make a dent in the amount they owe. The logic seems pretty simple: to lighten the load on the NZ economy, we could siphon small amounts out of other country's economies through payments made by Kiwi ex-pats on their student loans. This educated diaspora collectively owe NZ $2billion for their education, with approximately 35,000 out of the 85,000 overseas-based borrowers behind on their repayments.
Many Kiwis overseas want to help and not everyone can attend a fundraising concert, rugby match or celebrity auction. Donating to the Red Cross or the Govt quake fund may seem impersonal or just not enough, so surely this is a win-win solution? Not according to two overseas-based graduates, who say that asking New Zealand's "poorest and most indebted demographic for a hand out is not appropriate". I wonder whether they have missed the point (that it's voluntary), and also forgotten that while current students may have restricted incomes, many of the graduates now working overseas certainly do not.
Sure the letter is aiming to trip the guilt glands and tug the heart-strings but if these student loan debts are not attended to, it becomes yet another financial barrier to returning home. If home is where the heart is, it is also where the need is. As Christchurch falls from the headlines, our need for support - emotional and financial - will not diminish any time soon. This is the most expensive disaster we've had to deal with as a nation, and Kiwis far and wide can play their part as our whole country deals with the enormous rebuilding project for the next few years. You can read Sir Paul's open letter at the HEKE website here... the dude's a world-leading specialist in nanotechnology and magnetic resonance, he's got an awesome brain and he's come up with a tangible and sensible suggestion that has the potential to benefit not only Cantabrians but New Zealanders both here and overseas.
And now for something completely different, a little light relief in the form of a reworked version of Tim Finn's "Fraction too much friction", a classic Kiwi song from 1983. This one has a distinctly Chch flavour...