Labour claims the Government has been forced into a back-down on student loan caps for medical students after it made a decision to remove it today.
Medical students will now be able to get an extra year of interest-free student loans following an announcement by Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce.
A 21,000-signature petition was handed over at Parliament this afternoon to Labour's health spokeswoman Annette King calling for the removal of the seven-year limit put in place in 2010.
That call has been answered by Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce who this morning eluded to a change, telling journalists to "watch this space; Christmas is coming".
Mr Joyce announced that from next year all eligible graduate-entry students in medicine, optometry, dentistry and veterinary science will be able to apply for an extra year of student loan support on top of the seven years.
The extra year was previously only available to help graduate students complete post-graduate qualifications.
Changes would also allow graduate-entry medical students to get the Medical Trainee Intern Grant as a lump sum at the start of their final year so they can pay fees if necessary, rather than the current monthly payment.
Mr Joyce says the seven-year limit was to encourage students to "take the most direct route through their studies".
It allowed a maximum of 10 years to allow for the completion of doctoral studies.
"The policy has worked well overall, discouraging study that is poorly-focused or less likely to deliver good outcomes for individual students and taxpayers who subsidise the loan scheme," he says.
Ms King says the cap was "short-sighted and unfair" and is happy a change in the policy was good for students.
Months ago, Ms King said Mr Joyce said he wasn't considering exemptions.
"An extra year is a sop, and he knows it.
"This U-turn is nothing more than a bit of window-dressing by an under-pressure Steven Joyce to tweak a policy he was adamant didn’t need tweaking."
Labour had criticised the loan cap, saying it stopped doctors, dentists and other professionals from specialising and favoured those in rich families who could study loan-free.