Quake appeal for expat students to repay loans

11:57 am on 29 March 2011

An appeal is underway to try and get New Zealanders living overseas with student loans to repay them and help the Government fund the rebuild of earthquake-hit Christchurch.

Leading science professor Sir Paul Callaghan has launched the Heroic Educated Kiwi Expatriates (Heke) project, saying it is an opportunity for people to make a difference.

Sir Paul heads Victoria University's MacDiarmid Institute and says there are 85,000 expatriates with student loans, owing more than $2 billion.

He told Nine to Noon the median loan is $17,900, with about 35,000 currently behind in their repayments.

"Money like that coming in is a different sort of money - it's an absolute shot in the arm to the economy. Of course we're not going to get $2 billion overnight, but it's to give a measure of the scale of the problem.

"Even if a small proportion of students respond to that, we're talking millions. If a large proportion do that, then they really will make history - and I think that's the opportunity."

The idea is supported by Canterbury University vice-chancellor Rodd Carr, who says repayments will help New Zealand across the board.

"If that debt can be repaid sooner, New Zealand Inc will have more degrees of freedom to reinvest in rebuilding whatever it chooses to rebuild.

"It may be roads in Auckland; it may be the rebuilding of Christchurch. It simply reduces the debt burden faced by central government."