Australian students doing it tough in higher education

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Not Easy: Thomas Green of The Junction, Meg Francis of Hamilton South, Erin Mackaway of Charlestown, and Jake McNeil of Cooks Hill are doing it tough. SOURCE: Newcastle Herald

Newcastle Herald/Australian Associated Press

Two out of three Australian university students live below the poverty line, a report says, as student debt soars.

The report from Universities Australia’s longitudinal study of student finances, released yesterday, says more than two-thirds of students worry about their finances.

This is a big jump from when the last study was done in 2006, when only about half reported financial stress.

Two-thirds of undergraduates earned less than $20,000 a year, with about 21per cent earning less than $10,000.

But their average annual expenditure was $37,020, with big increases in housing, food and utility costs reported.

Almost one in five said they regularly couldn’t afford food or other essential items, while textbooks were the most difficult study-related expense to find room for in the budget.

A quarter of undergraduates had a loan of some kind, as did a third of post-graduate students.

The estimated level of debt incurred from HECS and course fees jumped to $37,217 per student.

The levels of financial stress were even greater for students from low socio-economic backgrounds and indigenous students.

Only a third of indigenous students got some kind of support from their parents or partner, compared with just over half of their non-indigenous counterparts.

For all students, the most common type of family support was being fed, followed by getting use of a computer or printer.

‘‘This report clearly shows that financial stress on university students is increasing,’’ UA chief executive Belinda Robinson said.

‘‘While the impact of this on drop out rates and future enrolments is unclear, it is of sufficient concern to justify close monitoring, particular in the context of meeting the government’s goal to have 20 per cent of students from low [socio-economic] backgrounds enrolled by 2020,’’ she said.

National Union of Students president Jade Tyrrell said student poverty had soared.

Students needed more income support and it needed to be more flexible, waiting times needed to be reduced and eligibility criteria relaxed, she said.

‘‘A huge problem we face as students is that student poverty is seen as a rite of passage almost and that needs to change,’’ Ms Tyrrell said.

The report also found the average student income was higher than in 2006 and students were more likely to have savings they could draw on in emergencies.

But it said the apparently contradictory findings pointed to an increasing polarisation between the ‘‘haves’’ and ‘‘have-nots’’.

‘‘This would be unsurprising in view of the changes that have taken place in the sector since 2006, particularly the growth in participation by students who may not previously have been likely to enter higher education,’’ the report states.

Universities Australia surveyed more than 11,700 students across a range of demographics for the study.

-AAP

Parental help is crucial, say Hunter students

By Sam Rigney

Financial assistance from their parents – including meals and a roof over their head – may be the only thing standing between some of the University of Newcastle’s students and the poverty line.

The report from Universities Australia’s longitudinal study of student finances, released yesterday, found two in three of Australia’s university students are living below the poverty line.

Hunter students Erin Mackaway, Thomas Green and Meg Francis all agreed that without support from their parents they would  find it difficult to survive  financially.

‘‘If I didn’t live with my parents then I would struggle,’’ Miss Mackaway said.

‘‘They feed me, if I have any financial worries they will cover me and I’ll fix it up later.

‘‘But also even just simple things like all my printing gets done at home, I don’t pay for internet, essential things that most students have to pay for.’’

Most of the group said they were shocked by the study’s findings, but Miss Francis said there wasn’t enough assistance in place to help students.

‘‘I don’t think I qualify, but I can understand how people do, especially living out of home and the fact that the living costs in Newcastle are so high,’’ Miss Francis said.

‘‘Especially living on a wage and trying to study full-time is really demanding.’’

Cooks Hill’s Jake McNeil said paying for health care, rent and other unexpected costs meant he occasionally ‘‘flirted’’ with the line and lived from pay cheque to pay cheque.

All four students said money was one of their major concerns, that they spent more than they earned and that their financial worries had heightened after every year of study.

A few students admitted  missing meals, ignoring phone bills and avoiding paying for petrol because of a money shortage.

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