Revealed: Top 10 student loan borrowers owe more than $370k each

If you've stopped looking at the size of your student loan, then look away now.

Figures from the IRD show the top 10 student loan borrowers owe more than $370,000 each - and they've all fled the country.

"The 10 largest student loans were worth a combined total of $4,079,599 as of 1 June," an IRD spokesperson told Newshub.

"All of the 10 largest student loan balances belong to borrowers who currently live overseas."

The IRD wouldn't say what these people studied.

The impact of student loans on students and their education has become a major political issue.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says a student loan debt is something the Government "is aiming to tackle" with its policy of one-year fee-free study for students new to tertiary education.

He says the Government plans to extend fee-free education out to three years over time, with the next free year planned to be added in 2020. 

The Government plans to make two years of university free by 2021, and three years free by 2024. The fee-free policy is expected to cost $340 million a year, and the increase to student support a further $270 million a year.

But this is no help to students who already have loans and are struggling with repayments swollen by interest and penalties.

Statistics from 2016 show around 112,390 student borrowers live overseas, with an estimated $3.25 billion of debt, and 70 percent are behind in their loan repayments.

Since 2010 the Government has been increasing its efforts to make them repay.

The IRD has been cracking down on the overseas borrowers who attempt to re-enter the country. That includes the controversial arrest of Ngatokotoru Puna in 2016.

The nephew of the Cook Islands Prime Minister became the first man to be arrested for ignoring requests to repay his student loan, after being targeted at Auckland Airport over his $120,000-plus loan.

He had to borrow $5000 from his parents get his passport back and get the case against him dropped.

"We tried to engage with the customer on numerous occasions by phone, email and letter and he's failed to engage with us, and it got to the point where we've decided to use our powers in the most judicious way and arrest him as he tried to leave the country," an IRD collections manager, Stuart Duff, told Newshub at the time.

He's not the only one, with other borrowers arrested trying to leave the country over student loan debt.

According to the IRD, arrests at the border are used as a "very last resort" and only follow strenuous efforts to contact a borrower.

The New Zealand Union of Students' Association (NZUSA) has criticised the IRD's actions, and calls for better support and repayment conditions for overseas-based borrowers.

"It breeds fear and forces people to never return. This is damaging to our reputation as a nation," a spokesperson told Newshub after the arrests.

"Instead of using legislation to make them criminals, the rules should be used to support borrowers to make repayments."