NZ student support most generous in OECD


The government is committed to spending in priority areas. Doing that without an overall increase in spending means a reprioritising of some funds.

One of these is support for students:

The Government remains committed to keeping  student loans interest free but we are also determined to reduce the  cost of the overall loan scheme to taxpayers.

The scheme is very large, and not so long ago the Government was effectively writing off 49 cents of every dollar that was lent.

With previous changes we’ve made, we’ve so far managed to bring that down to 45 cents.

And we intend to get it closer to 40 cents in the future by continuing to  chase overseas borrowers and through the faster repayment of loans once  people have finished their study.

As in previous Budgets, some of  the savings we make will be reinvested in improving teaching and  research within our universities and other tertiary institutions for the next generation of students.

A write off of nearly 50% on loans is unsustainable. It is also unfair to graduates who do repay their loans, to taxpayers who pay the cost and to others whose need of public support is greater.

Chasing overseas defaulters and expecting faster repayments is sensible and moderate, though the New Zealand University Students Association doesn’t think so:

“Increasing the repayment rate is a tax increase for the 500,000 New Zealanders who have student loans. Student loan repayments are a tax, since they are collected by IRD, straight out of your pay, just the same as PAYE. It’s outrageous that graduates should have to pay higher taxes to pay for a budget short-fall which has been caused by the tax-cuts that the National government gave to high income earners,” said Pete Hodkinson, president of the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations.

Good grief – if that’s the standard of logic and economic understanding of students, the very generous taxpayer support for students is being wasted.

And generous it is – the PM gave the numbers at the Mainland Conference on Sunday and if memory serves me correctly, about 40% of tertiary funding goes in student support, more than twice that in Australia.

What NZUSA doesn’t appear to understand is the money students borrow without interest is money the government has borrowed – with interest. The more that is borrowed, the more that will have to be repaid – with interest, from tax.

NZUSA would be the first to complain if the government didn’t invest enough in teaching and research.

If there is no increase in overall spending, any increase in one area must come from savings in another and expecting graduates to repay their loans a little faster is fair and reasonable.

No surprises Budget


Jane Clifton wrote in her column in The Listener:

“It has been a couple of decades since any Budget truly surprised anyone. All the measures are carefully explained in advance – as they should be – and only the fiscal details, again, containing few surprises are kept secret .  . . by Budget day, there are only two questions of any real novelty: what colour tie will the Finance Minister wear and will there be sausage rolls?”

She got it right. Today’s  Budget held few surprises – increased spending for education and health, necessary support for Canterbury earthquake recovery, much needed, but pretty restrained, changes to Kiwisaver, student loans and Working for Families, some partial sale of assets . . .

There was no sign of the usual election-year lolly scramble but there was good news. The Budget will return to surplus in 2014/15 – a year sooner than forecast in December.

This is a significant achievement given the impact of February’s earthquake since the forecast was made. We’ll all benefit from the reduced need for Government borrowing and the lift in national savings.

We’ll also benefit from the escape from a credit rating downgrade:

Standard&Poor’s has made no change to New Zealand’s credit rating and says the Government must achieve its fiscal targets for its external position to improve.

Last November the credit rating company placed the outlook for New Zealand’s AA plus rating on a negative outlook.

Today it said that the contents of the Government’s 2012 budget were “consistent with the assumptions that feed into our sovereign ratings on New Zealand”.

Finance Minister Bill English said:

Budget 2011 builds a strong platform for jobs and growth, sets a credible path back to surplus by 2014/15 and helps increase national savings . . .

“This is a responsible and balanced budget for the times,” Mr English says. “It ensures New Zealand will build faster growth based on savings and exports, so New Zealanders have the jobs and higher incomes they deserve.”

It will not surprise regular readers that I agree with that.

As for the tie – I couldn’t see it on the radio and I don’t know whether there were sausage  rolls.

No broken promises


Labour has been trying to say that National will be breaking the promises it made about Kiwisaver, student loans and Working for Families.

Those promises applied to this term.

John Key’s pre-Budget speech makes it clear any changes will not take place until after the election.  People will be able to take the proposed changes into account when deciding whether or not they give National a second term.

Mr Key said the Budget will contain changes to KiwiSaver, Working for Families and interest-free student loans – programmes which collectively cost almost $5 billion a year.

“These programmes were introduced during a debt and consumption-driven economic bubble, and it is clear that they are unaffordable,” Mr Key said.

“None of the changes we will be making will affect people before the election so New Zealanders will be voting with all the information they need and can make their own choices.”

The Government intends to reduce the amount of money it has to borrow from overseas to put into KiwiSaver, and increase the amount of genuine savings from the private sector.

It makes no sense for the government to borrow to help other people save nor to help those who could and should be looking after themselves.

Mr Key said Working for Families will also be better targeted at lower-income families, who have a much greater need for assistance, and a little less generous to families higher up the Working for Families scale.

“We will do this gradually, in a way that minimises the impact on families,” Mr Key said.

The student loan scheme will also be adjusted but will remain interest-free.

“The changes we are making in the Budget will make all of these programmes more affordable and ensure they survive into the future,” Mr Key said.

WFF should never have been given to upper income families. A three year repayment holiday on student loans for people who go overseas was also far too generous.

There was no justification for welfare for wealthy people when the government’s books were in surplus and there is even less for it now they’re in deficit.

It will be very interesting to see how opposition parties react to this. It won’t be easy to convince people that borrowing to give money to wealthy families and people who’ve left the country is a good idea.

The full speech is here.

They’re loans not gifts


Student loans might be interest free while studying and for those who stay in New Zealand afterwards but they’re not gifts.

They are required to be repaid and, for those who go overseas, with interest.

Tightening up the rules around who gets a loan, how much they can claim and the requirement to repay it is long over due.

People who with overdue fines are stopped at the border if they try to leave the country. There would be an uproar if people with student loans were treated that way but when the 15% of those with loans are overseas and owe 55% of the debt they are an obvious target for tighter rules.

Suggestions by Tertiary Minister Steven Joyce are reasonable. Giving those who’ve had loans and go overseas a three year holiday before they’re required to start repayments is far too generous:

. . . we have this thing called the three-year repayment holiday right now, which the previous government started, which seems to have been a pragmatic decision that they made that they weren’t collecting it anyway, so let’s pretend that we won’t collect it. I’m concerned about that. I think it sends the wrong message that somebody can sit overseas for three years and not make any commitment at all towards repayment. Now, when you go on your OE, perhaps you go six months or a year without getting an income, but, actually, once you’re over there for about a year, you’ve got to be living on something, and we’re thinking that we might change the length of that repayment holiday. . .

. . . Everybody who goes overseas automatically gets it, and I’m thinking maybe we’ll look at something like an application requiring them to leave a contact in New Zealand, for example, and actually limiting the period of time to a lot less than three years.

 Using debt collection agencies and recalling the whole loan if people ignore requests to make repayments; and allowing people over 55 to take loans for fees but not living costs is also sensible.

Interest-free student loans was an election bribe before the 2005 election. It was one of the dead rats National swallowed during the 2008 campaign.

Swallowing it doesn’t mean the government can’t tighten the rules to make it a bit easier to digest.

These changes will do that, saving money without imposing unreasonable costs on graduates.

Shock horror – students forced home to work


TV3 reports Cost of living forces some Auckland students home for summer:

University students are supposed to be on holiday, but instead of taking a break, many are being forced to move home and find extra work to save money for the new academic year.

Supposed to be on holiday? Being forced to move home and find extra work?

Back in the late  1970s when my generation was supposedly getting a “free” education that was normal.

We finished exams in November, found jobs and worked until early to mid February when we returned to university. We didn’t feel entitled to three months holiday and we didn’t see it as being “forced” to work. It’s just what we did to ensure we had enough money to live on while we were studying because while we paid little in fees we still had rent, food, books and other expenses.

We also regarded it as part of our education. We learned new skills, gained an appreciation of what other people have to do for a living and motivation to study so we didn’t have to do those sorts of jobs for ever.

At least one of today’s students doesn’t understand that. Med student James Shand says:

“I’ve got friends in Dunedin who’re paying $100 a week, and we’re paying literally $60 a week more than that,” James says. “And that’s eating up our entire student loan, which they’ve got money to buy food, and travel expenses, and stuff.

The weekly difference sounds big but the annual one isn’t nearly as great. Almost all Dunedin flats are rented for 12 months. Most students come from out of town and go home or elsewhere to work for the summer but still have to keep paying rent while their flats are unoccupied. They can’t, as Auckland students can, give up their flats for three months.

“For us, we literally have to have jobs over summer just to try and sustain us throughout the year, whereas they can sort of get by without that.”

Student loans are supposed to help people while they’re studying. They are not supposed to allow them to stop taking responsibility for their own finances.

Money earned from holiday work can be used to reduce the amount students need to borrow.  Or, if they use the incentive to borrow the maximum which the interest-free loan provides, they can invest what they earn and use it to help repay the loan faster when they graduate.

Fortunately for the future of the country the attitude of the student quoted isn’t universal.

We spent last evening with students whose work ethic was obvious. They all had holiday jobs, accepted them as a normal part of student life and as something to add to their CVs to make them more employable when they are looking for work when they have completed their studies.

A tale of two students


Their parents agreed to pay for their accommodation and fees when they went to university.

Both chose to also borrow the maximum available under the student loan scheme.

She finished her first year with nothing left over. He finished his first year with * several thousand dollars in the bank.

This post was prompted by A lifetime of debt? at Kiwiblog.

When student politicians complain about fees and other costs of tertiary education and the burden of student loans, they always assume that everybody has to borrow the maximum amount available to enable them to study.

They don’t. Some get parental help, some win scholarships, some get additional allowances from the state.

Most have the choice of working before they start study, during holidays and at least part time while they’re studying to reduce the amount they have to borrow.

The example I’ve given also shows they have some choice over how much they spend.

* I’ve said “several thousand dollars” because I can’t remember the exact number but it was definitely more than a couple.

Someone has to pay for free money


Interest free student loans are interest free to the student but they come at considerable cost to taxpayers.

In spite of that the suggestion that students pay a $50 administration fee has already been met with howls of anguish from the usual suspects who think we don’t do enough.


“If we take into account student allowances and the student loans we lend to students to pay for fees and living costs, we spend a total of 42% of our total tertiary budget on student support,” says Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce.

In comparison, Australia spends about 31% of its tertiary budget that way and the OECD average is 19%.

Mr Joyce says a big reason is the way we handle our student loans. 

“Taxpayers are currently writing off about 47 cents in every dollar that is advanced on a student loan.  We remain committed to interest-free student loans but we are looking at a number of things at the margin that will promote equity and fairness between students and taxpayers.“They won’t change the world but they will give us more funds to do more in the tertiary sector.  Final decisions will be detailed in the Budget later this month.”

Student leaders and others who complain about the government not helping students enough can’t realise that we’re spending more than twice the OECD average on student support.

Most students will be taxpayers, many already are. The more they get as students the greater the burden they’re faced with as taxpayers.

All of us would be better served if  tertiary funding was rebalanced to provide more for improving the quality of education rather than the quantity of student support.

Requiring students who have loans to make a token payment towards the cost of them would be a good start.

Performance based loans an improvement


The suggestion by Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce that student loans be tied to performance would be an improvement on the current system.

It is not in the best interests of the taxpayer or students to keep on paying loans to people who are failing significant parts of their courses.

With a limited amount of money available it should be going to ensuring high standards of teaching and helping students who help themselves, not funding those who fail.

Allowances are cut if students fail more than half their course in the previous year and that would be a sensible model to follow for loans.

Interest-free student loans were one of Labour’s election bribes. National came up with a better idea in 2005 but lost the election and swallowed the dead rat by promising to keep the loans in its 2008 campaign.

That doesn’t mean there can’t be changes to the system and stopping loans to those who fail would be a good place to start.

Helping people who graduate and work in hard to staff areas is better than propping up under-graduates who fail.

Voluntary bonding for health graduates is a good example of this and Health Minister Tony Ryall has announced the scheme will be widened.

South Canterbury has been added to the areas which are hard to staff and surgical nurses have been included in the list of hard to staff specialities.

Interest free loans too expensive


Otago University Vice Chancellor Sir David Skegg wants the government to consider charging a little bit of interest on student loans.

Otago University was in the same situation as others in New Zealand. It was doing everything it could to increase income and balance the books to avoid staff redundancies, Prof Skegg told a university council meeting yesterday.

“These are testing times for universities. What I am saying is perhaps a little bit of interest [should be added] to student loans… so the Government can fund universities more and we can keep our tuition fees down.

If the question is, what is the best use of public funds for tertiary education?,  interest free student loans aren’t the answer.

They’re too expensive for the taxpayer and they fund a greater quantity of students rather than a better quality education.

They also make education more expensive. Money spent on interest free loans is money not available for funding universities which, as Otago did yesterday,  have to increase fees and levies. That means students then have to borrow more.

That’s not good for them as individuals and it’s not good for us as a country.

There is no such thing as free education.

I was one of the generation who paid almost nothing for my university studies but tax rates were up to 66% to fund that largesse.

Students forget most of them are at university or polytech for only three or four years and spend the rest of their lives paying tax.

They, and the rest of us, would be better off if they received less while they’re students and paid less tax when they graduate.

They’d also get a better education because at least some of the money which now goes to interest-free loans could be spent on improving the teaching.

Bonding graduates rather than indiscriminately funding students would be much better use of  scarce public funds.

That way money would go to people who graduate and stay here to work, not just anyone who starts studying at a tertiary institution who may or may not complete their studies and may or may not work in New Zealand when they graduate.

It might also do something to correct the imbalance we now have with many more graduates in media and communications than in agricultural science. More of the latter would be much mroe likely to add to economic growth which in turn would make more money available for education.

Happy headlines


From today’s ODT:

Soaring prices for lamb welcomed


Bonding scheme working, Key tells party


South is dodging crisis, says English


New businesses open in town


Flying school plans to open at airport


Tourists flock to colony

Apropos of the last story, on Friday Jim Mora’s panel discussed rural web cams  (at the end of part II) which are very popular in Britian with urban people.

I haven’t unearthed any in New Zealand, but Oamaru’s little blue penguin used to have a penguin cam. It’s not operating at the moment but the website says it’s coming soon.


Stoozing student makes $2000 from interest free loan


The ODT reports on how an enterprising student made $2000 by taking out student loans from different banks and investing it.

The student, who prefers to remain anonymous, employed a system known as “stoozing”, which works in a similar way to the international “carry trade” – where money is borrowed at a low rate in one country and invested at a high rate in another.

The student realised banks trying to attract students as customers had created a similar, legal, opportunity for free money within New Zealand.

“Stoozing” is a slang term to describe an activity where money is borrowed at 0% interest and invested elsewhere. Eventually, the borrowed money is repaid but the interest it has earned remains with the “stoozer”.

. . . At the beginning of last year, the student visited four banks and set up bank accounts with 0% overdrafts. He then withdrew all the money – amounting to $6000 – and invested it for one year in a safe term deposit at a rate of 9.25%.

He’s a business student and he’s already shown he can spot and act on an opportunity others mightn’t see which shows he has an entrepreneurial streak which can’t be taught at university.

However, interest rates were much higher last year and Westpac media relations manager Craig Dowling points out there are risks in stoozing:

“The opportunity for arbitrage – the old term for stoozing – is lower in a low-rate market such as we moved into over the past six months so there should be decreasing propensity to stooz.”

Short-term deposit rates with Government guaranteed institutions such as banks were about 3.5%-4% per annum, and there was a definite risk involved in chasing higher returns.

“That needs to be considered, because if a gamble turns bad, the stoozer could find themselves in debt, way beyond their means.

“In the case of a student who stoozes and loses, it could be to the tune of the bank overdraft and if they haven’t established a good relationship with one or other bank, they might find zero interest in return.

One of the criticisms of interest-free student loans was that they’d be used by people who didn’t need them because a scheme which offers something for nothing will always attract people who don’t need the money but see an opportunity to use it to make more. 

I know students who’d earned enough in holiday jobs to take them through the academic year who took student loans and invested the money. One bought shares and did very well, but the risk/return ratio for that would be much higher now than it was a few years ago.

UPDATE: To clarify – the loans the student took were bank loans which as Kiwiblog  points out are loss-leaders to attract new customers, not interest-free student loans from the government scheme.

Free education costly


Otago University students were outraged at proposed fee increases but the University Council followed what Student Association president Simon Wilson described as a familiar dance.

“Staff recommend the maximum increases allowed by the Government, students recommend a zero increase, and the council agrees with the staff recommendation.”

The ODT editorialises that years of  free university education  go further into the past with each fee rise.

New Zealand has evolved a mixed funding system where the State still pays about 65% of the tuition costs, with fees making up most of the rest.

As long as fees do not become too prohibitive, they have the positive effects of encouraging students to focus on their courses, teachers to be more accountable and universities to be more relevant.

Students are likely to better appreciate something for which they pay, and waste is less likely. Thus, a return to those bygone years would not be wise even if it was possible.

I was one of the students who benefitted from the “free” education of the past.

But of course it wasn’t free. Although I wasn’t paying fees taxpayers were, some as much as 66% of their earnings.

Students and their politicians have put a lot of energy into trying to reduce the cost of studying but it’s a war that can’t be won. There’s a limited amount of taxpayer money available for tertiary education, the more that goes into reducing the costs for students with policies such as interest-free loans, the less there is for the universities which then have to increase fees which then increases costs for students . . .

Most students are at university for three or four years but pay tax for the rest of their lives.

They’d be better off paying a bit more while studying and a lot less in tax when they graduate than paying a little less now and a lot more through their taxes for the students of the future.

Labour student bribe on Monday?


The ODT’s front page story  says the government is putting $12.5m into the country’s first design institute which is to be established in Dunedin.

It also suggests Labour will offer another student bribe:

Miss Clark is scheduled to be in the city on Monday visiting the University of Otago, where she is expected to make a “significant” announcement about student funding.

. . . Students are expecting some help with either a universal student allowance or some adjustment to tertiary fees and the Otago University Students’ Association is tipping a packed common room of up to 500 students when Miss Clark speaks there on Monday.

The announcement of interest-free student loans trumped National on the eve of the last election.

The state of the nation’s books ought to preclude such tax-payer funded largesse this time, but the need to be responsible hasn’t stopped them before.

NZ First seeks student vote


New Zealand First is setting its sights on younger voters  with a promise to introduce a universal student allowance. Winsotn Peters made the announcement in address to University of Otago students today.

A universal student allowance would encourage more students into tertiary education,” he said.

“It would reduce the dependence of loans and the cycle of huge debt that many of our graduates face, especially those who seek the highest qualifications or choose careers in areas such as medicine.”

Do we need to encourage more students into tertiary education?

There are shortages of some skills, including trades which don’t require a univesity education, but I wasn’t aware of a shortage of students or graduates, in general.

As for reducing the dependence on loans, students do have some choices. They can take a gap year (or more) to earn money before they start university or part way through their studies; they can work full time in their holidays and part time during term; and they can take a strict approach to differentiating between necessities and luxuries to reduce the amount they need to borrow.

But regardless of what they do their education won’t be free. If students pay less for their education then taxpayers will pay more.

And paying more for the relatively short time they’re students and less for the long time most will be tax payers, is better for them, all taxpayers and the economy.

$728m student election bribe


The country is facing recession, galloping inflation, the public cupboard is nearly bare and Labour is considering a $728 million student election  bribe to give students a universal allowance.

 The policy would enable about 47,000 fulltime students now ineligible for an allowance to receive taxpayer support and would be the biggest single boost to student incomes since the allowance scheme began.

Tertiary Education Minister Pete Hodgson said yesterday that in January this year he instructed Education Ministry officials to cost a universal student allowance.

But the subsequent paper produced by officials “should not be construed as a signal the Government intends to introduce such a policy”.

“The paper was prepared in order to get a better understanding of what the real costs of a universal student allowance would be,” he said.

The paper shows that removing income tests on the allowance and providing it to all fulltime students would cost a total of $2.09 billion over four years.

The net extra cost of such a plan is $728 million after the existing costs of the scheme are removed, along with a forecast plunge in borrowing under the student loans scheme that might accompany such a plan.

There are inequities in the current scheme which is based on parents’ incomes. But a universal allowance is not the most pressing need in an overstretched education system.  

Students have long campaigned for a universal allowance and such a scheme is party policy for both NZ First and the Greens. UnitedFuture backs extending allowance payments to all students aged 20 and over.

The students campaign has been based on several misaprehensions including their claim that they are the only ones who have to borrow to live.

Many people in owner-operator businesses borrow to live. Dairy farmers receive monthly payments but sheep, beef and cropping farmers pay for all their inputs then wait months to get any income, borrowing seasonal finance to get them through until they sell their stock, wool or crop.

It is understood Labour has also considered increasing the allowance to as much as $350 a week, but this has been ruled out as too expensive.

And $728m is not too expensive?

A universal allowance would echo Labour’s king-hit, interest-free student loans policy in the 2005 election campaign, which was credited with turning around the party’s polling and sending thousands of voters to Labour.

Only 57 per cent of students receive the allowance, which is $122 a week for those under 25 and living at home, $153 a week for those living away from home, and $184 for those aged over 25.

That is because the allowance is means-tested on personal income and, for students under 25, their parents’ income.

It is ridiculous that people under 25 can claim a benefit regardless of parental circumstances while students needs are judged on their parents’ income. But why not lower the age to which students have their allowances set by what their parents earn and offset the cost by increasing the age at which beneficiaries are regarded as independent?

Measures announced in this year’s Budget included a 10 per cent increase in the parental income threshold, lowering the age for parental income testing to 24 and increasing the amount students can borrow for living costs from the student loans scheme by $5 to $155.

Under Labour, the number and value of allowances paid to students have continued to fall.

Ministry documents show that since 2001 the number of students eligible for an allowance has plummeted by 32 per cent as parents’ incomes have risen sharply, pushing many above the threshold for the allowance.

There could be a case for raising the parental income threasholds.
 A study by market researcher TNS Conversa revealed average student debt has risen by 54 per cent since 2004 and is now $28,838.

 The ministry says a universal allowance would lead to a substantial reduction in borrowing under the loans scheme.

No doubt it would but that still doesn’t justify spending $728m to do it when the case for universal allowances is far from compelling and there are many more pressing needs for the money.

Students to get $350 weekly allowance?


Remember how Labour trumped National on the eve of the last election with its interest-free student loan policy? Colin Espiner wrties in The Press today (not yet on line) that another student election bribe is in the wind.

It is understood Labour is considering a massive boost to the student allowance scheme, including a payment of some $350 a week for study courses of 35 hours a week or more. That would put student allowances far ahead of any other standard benefit payment. It would cost a lot of money, but may not have the same impact as interest-free loans did in 2005.

Students and student politicians might think this is a good thing and they may be able to make a case for a small increase. But a $350 a week allowance, so much higher than any other benefit,  is not the best use of money in the over-stretched education budget.

Students and their representatives put a lot of energy into crying poor, but instead of worrying about loans and allowances they ought to be worrying about the quality of their education.

Every dollar that goes to a student allowance or interest free loan, is a dollar less for teachers and teaching resources. Improving those would be better use of taxpayers dollars than an over-generous student allowance scheme.

Bad reporting but good idea


Student bond idea `has merit’

By DAN SILKSTONE – The Press | Tuesday, 27 May 2008


National Party leader John Key supports forcing medical graduates to remain in New Zealand for a set period as part of student loan arrangements.


Good grief – how did this reporting  get past The Press sub?


The headline sums up the story but nowhere in the article is there anything to back up the first paragraph’s statement that Key supports forcing medical graduates to remain here. And the Herald  makes it quite clear the scheme, if implemented, would be voluntary.


National leader John Key says his party is considering wiping medical students’ loans if they agree to work as GPs in rural areas for three or four years.

“I am very concerned about the number of young graduates that are completing their qualification here in New Zealand and leaving,” Mr Key said this morning.

“We need them in New Zealand, we’ve got a GP shortage that is well acknowledged and we’re not afraid to look at creative ways of maybe encouraging them to stay.”

Mr Key said any scheme would be voluntary.

“There are plenty of doctors who have a student loan – they might owe $90-$100,000. The concept of them working in part of regional or rural New Zealand for three or four years to have their loan written off might be very attractive,” he said.

That’s the kind of model we are considering.”


And the idea has merit. There is nothing wrong with graduates going overseas for further training or work experience, but we have a problem when they feel forced to go away for better pay and then don’t come back.


There is a shortage of GPs, especially in rural areas – every doctor at one medical practice in Oamaru is from overseas. Otago Medical School has started a rural training scheme which bases fifth year students in provincial towns in an attempt to redress the chronic shortage of rural doctors. There are a variety of reasons doctors prefer working in cities, but writing off a portion of a recent graduate’s loan for every year worked may help encourage some to the country.


Hat tip: kiwiblog


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