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RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands Herald, April 26) – Six recent college graduates from the Cook Islands say they now face a major problem: how to repay their student loans.

The six students who graduated from Waikato University last week were all from the Outer Islands.

Corina Mose, of Aitutaki, has just returned from her graduation ceremony. She completed her Bachelor of Social Sciences last year. The six graduated from a range of different degree courses. They were all studying using student loans.

Corina said between ten and twenty students from the Cook Islands started at the same time she did. She was very proud that the Outer Island students did so well academically. Four of the students were from Aitutaki, one was from Mangaia and the other was New Zealand born.

"We all worked really hard," she said.

Fay Lewis of Rarotonga graduated from the Bachelor of Social Science Honors Degree at Massey University. She was the only Cook Islander in her year to graduate.

Both young women said one of the hardest things for them to come to terms with is the fact that given the low wages in the Cook Islands they may never be free of the debt incurred by taking out a student loan. Seven percent interest is payable on the loan each month. The loan system is based on New Zealand wages and New Zealand interest rates.

"It will take most of my life to pay it back, if ever," Corina said.

"I feel disadvantaged by taking the initiative of going away to study."

"Non-government organizations need to realize that if they want qualified staff in the Cook Islands, then they must pay them accordingly," Fay added.

"Those who go overseas to study should be supported. A lot of the people in non government organizations are unaware of the debt that is incurred in getting a degree, or of the hours of study necessary. The people of Rarotonga have a right to access social services. If we don’t recognize our specialized staff they will not stay," she said.

Corina said the pay structure is one reason why Cook Islanders who study overseas often do not return here to work afterwards.

"Only a few of us come back," she said.

"I wanted to come back here and work for my people - to help them."

Corina said, despite the hardship, she wanted to encourage other Cook Islanders to consider studying overseas.

"You learn professionalism and how to work in the most effective way. I’ve also learned to become more open, it has increased my confidence in my own judgment, I’ve learned how to work with people in a more professional way, and I am now working with people instead of working for them," she said.

"I now look at the bigger picture. I am looking globally rather than on a local level."

Both young women currently work with the Richmond Fellowship Cook Islands.

"As social workers we will continue to strive for social justice and do our bit," Fay said.

April 28, 2004

The Cook Islands Herald:


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