The concern was raised within and at the periphery of the Ta’okota’ianga, the largest annual gathering of Cook Islanders studying in New Zealand universities, recently hosted by the University of Otago in New Zealand’s South Island.
This year the gathering was attended, for the first time, by the Public Service Commission, represented by the commissioner, Russell Thomas.
Thomas, at his workshops, outlined his role and how government continues to seek qualified individuals for employment in the public service. He invited the students to consider using theirs kills and expertise with government in the Cook Islands.
Some students, who spoke in confidence to CI News, said while they were attracted to moving to the Cook Islands after studies to work, their student loans “will be the major hurdle”.
“By the time I finish my degree I would already owe government (New Zealand) quite a bit that will be the major hurdle. And if I return home to work, I must be paid enough to pay off my loan plus the penalty. At the same time have enough to live on,” said a student who was born in the Cook Islands.
Another, who was born in New Zealand, had never been to the Cook Islands, and was attracted to Thomas’ comments during the workshops.
“I was born here (NZ) and I have never been to the Cook Islands. Just listening to the commissioner gives me hope that I can finally return home. I don’t have any immediate family there but having a job there is good enough for me. But then I am accumulating a student loan here (NZ),” the student told CI News.
“I am just wondering if the Cook Islands government can help us out. My grandparents came here to work in factories, and I am the fruit of that journey, a university qualified granddaughter.”
Thomas told CI News in Dunedin that he would not comment on government’s position for student loans or scholarships, as these are handled by the Ministry of Education.
“I am not in a position to speak on that. This (student loan) was also raised in my workshops, they wanted to know how government could help them. I could not say anything as this is an area for Education (ministry).”
According to New Zealand’s Inland Revenue, a student’s loan remains interest free if they continue to live in New Zealand, but interests accumulate if one is away for more than 183 days.
The University of Waikato will host next year’s Ta’okota’ianga.
-Ulamila Kurai Wragg