New Zealander of the Year Sir Paul Callaghan is beseeching expat Kiwi graduates to contribute to the Christchurch earthquake recovery by paying back their student loans.
 
In a letter to graduates living overseas, Sir Paul notes the massive financial aid needed to recover from the disaster, and asks the more than 85,000 New Zealanders with student loans living abroad to provide a huge financial boost to the recovery. He particularly appeals to the 35,000 Kiwis abroad who are behind in their repayments.
 
New Zealand graduates living abroad have a average debt of $17,900. The total debt is more than $2bn.
 
“That represents nearly 30% of the $7 billion that New Zealand taxpayers will have to contribute through the Government’s contribution to the rebuilding… If we were to get everyone to contribute even a little, then the effect would be hugely helpful,” Sir Paul says.
 
The distinguished physicist, who was knighted in 2009, says such repayments would not only help New Zealand recover from the disaster, they would make good financial sense to the students. Graduates who live overseas do not qualify for the Government’s zero-interest student loan policy.
 
“What is remarkable about all of you is that you are earning an income in foreign currency, and if you were to start repaying or to accelerate your loan repayment rate, you would not only save yourself interest, but you would be acting heroically to help save your country,” says Sir Paul in the open letter.
 
Unlike New Zealand residents, whose loans are repaid automatically through the taxation system, overseas New Zealanders only repay if they volunteer to do so.
 
“Many have given up any thought of paying, and for them, a compounding interest bill will cause a debt burden that makes it harder to return to work in their homeland, only to be called upon by IRD to service and repay that debt. Thus, New Zealand loses twice over,” he says.

The letter appeals to an expat sense of patriotism and asks graduates to consider the value of their New Zealand education to their present employment abroad. 
 
“If, like so many Kiwis abroad you feel frustrated in not being able to help Christchurch enough, then I would ask you to consider what I am proposing. If only a few respond, the effect will be significant, but if most of you do, then you will make history and your contribution will be the stuff of legend.”
 
Sir Paul earned the New Zealander of the Year title in 2009 in recognition of his outstanding contribution to science, business and reversing New Zealand’s ‘brain drain’. He is currently battling cancer.

It is hoped that the message will spread via social networking sites, and draw inspiration from recent student-led movements in New Zealand and abroad that show how collective action can provide hugely positive outcomes.
 
“We need only look at Egypt, or the volunteer student army in Christchurch, to see that young people can achieve remarkable results when motivated by a sense of making history en masse, assisted by the peer influence expressed through social networking,” Sir Paul says.
 
“By reducing their student debts these heroes and heroines help New Zealand rebuild Christchurch.  They also get remove a barrier which prevents them returning to live and work in their homeland. We, their families, must welcome that.”
 
The campaign has been entitled the Heke (Heroic Educated Kiwi Expatriates) project. It also has a Facebook Page
 
In Te Reo, heke means “to reduce”.