As someone who was caught in the first year of the scheme my sympathy is zero.
(from the bad old days when interest was charged from when you used it, no interest right-offs, no accelerated payback schemes for me)
You know the rules when you sign up for them.
Scheme is has now been in place from before the incoming 1st year students were born...
A member of my family also got caught when the scheme first came in, but hasn't had such a good experience. She had a <$5,000 loan for a year's university study. Had a serious accident and withdrew from the course on her first day out of hospital - a couple of days after the university deadline for a fee refund. The university initially said they would refund on compassionate grounds then changed it's mind. The fees went into the student loan system. She was on disability benefit and hasn't been able to work since then. With all the various changes made to loans over the years her loan ballooned out to almost $30,000. She couldn't pay from her benefit so the amount kept growing. She notified IRD when she moved to Australia to live with her son - they wouldn't give her any leeway. Now, because the overseas repayments are based on the total of the loan, not on ability to pay, the loan is growing huge. She owns absolutely nothing and has no way to repay. She said IRD was prepared to make an arrangement for her to pay regular amounts from her old age pension (she is a senior now) but would not do anything to offset interest costs so she would be subsistence living without ever being able to clear out the loan.
I'm not currently in touch with her but assume she would be one of those people too scared to travel back to NZ. How that pans out for her old age, I don't know.
I'm just not interested in judging people that default on student loan repayments because I don't know what their personal circumstances are. For all I know, there could be thousands like my rellie. She could not have anticipated all the changes various governments made to the loan scheme, so I get riled when people say, "they knew what they were doing when they signed". This is not necessarily true as the scheme they signed up on isn't necessarily the scheme that's in place today.