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NZMA urges Govt action on fees

NZMA urges Govt action on fees

The New Zealand Medical Association strongly urges the Government to adequately fund New Zealand’s undergraduate medicine courses to ensure they remain affordable for New Zealand students.

The University of Otago has confirmed it is joining the University of Auckland in seeking to increase fees for medical students by 10 percent for next year. If this proceeds, Otago medical students will face a fee of $11,000.

The universities are seeking an exemption from the Government’s fees maxima policy so that they can increase fees for medical and some other programmes by 10%, rather than adhere with the Government’s 5% cap on undergraduate fee increases.

“Instead of granting an exemption, which will put huge financial pressure on students, the Government should examine whether it is funding these courses adequately,” said NZMA Chairman Dr Tricia Briscoe.

“If the fees maxima programme is not working, then the overall level of funding should be examined.

“Medical courses are vitally important to New Zealand. Huge levels of fees lead to huge debts, which in turn contribute to the ‘brain drain’ of doctors away from New Zealand. The medical workforce is already facing many difficulties, and we do not need to add to them.

"It is vital that those studying medicine come from all sections of the community,” Dr Briscoe said. “The financial burden makes it more difficult for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds to even think about starting a medical degree, and these students are vitally important as their communities tend to have the highest health needs. Women students are also more disadvantaged because, for various reasons, they tend to earn less when working.

"Ultimately, the cost of health care to New Zealanders is likely to increase long-term as doctors pay back their huge loans."

Surveys of medical students over the past few years have shown that many plan to leave New Zealand and work overseas, because of their high levels of debt combined with the better financial opportunities in many other countries. Research from 2001 showed that medical students faced average debts of $70,000 and more than 80 percent of them intended to work overseas within two years of graduating. There is nothing to indicate that this position has improved.

The NZMA has long highlighted the situation faced by medical students, and research has confirmed that New Zealand faces a potential long-term shortage of locally trained doctors.

“It makes no sense economically to continuing adding to the burden of these students,” Dr Briscoe said. “Thousands of dollars of taxpayers' money has already gone into their education. Now we need practical ways of encouraging doctors to stay here and work.”

Debt also affects career choices. Lower paid specialties, such as general practice, psychiatry and public health, are less popular with students.


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