If you’re at university and struggling to make ends meet, you’re not alone, according to a recent survey by Universities Australia.
The peak body for universities has carried out a survey every few years, looking at how students are coping financially with being in higher education. This year’s survey covered 18,500 students in 38 universities, so it’s a good snapshot of what’s going on on campus.
It found that on average, one in seven students – 15 per cent – had gone without food or other necessities because they simply didn’t have the cash. That rate rises to one in five students (19 per cent) who live in rural or regional areas, and one in four (25 per cent) of Indigenous students.
“This doesn’t mean you don’t get to have an extra packets of chips with your beer. This means that when you’re at the supermarket you regularly have to not buy food because you can’t afford it,” Chief Executive of Universities Australia, Catriona Jackson, told Hack.
Catriona said financial strain is making students think twice about higher education.
These stats don’t surprise President of the National Union of Students, Mark Pace.
“Just as an ordinary student, I’ve had countless friends and classmates who’ve regularly skipped meals because they can’t afford it. They can’t afford rent, or public transport to and from university,” he told Hack.
And before you say “they should just get a job”, consider this. Four out of five students already do have a job, and the hours they’re working has steadily increased. Nearly one-third of students (30 per cent) work more than 20 hours a week.
Catriona said that can have a negative impact on grades and other outcomes.
‘People on income support are below the poverty line’
Mark said part of the reason there’s so much financial strain is because income support payments – like Youth Allowance or Newstart – aren’t keeping up with cost of living.
“In order to be a university student and pay for the essentials like rent, food, transport and even energy, it costs about $433 a week.”
The maximum rate of Youth Allowance if you don’t have kids is $445.80 a fortnight, which is just under $11,600 a year.
This debate is all very timely: Parliament resumes this week after its winter recess, and lowering the HELP repayment threshold is on the agenda.
That means that politicians will be debating whether or not former uni students need to repay their student loans sooner – when they start earning $45,000 instead of the existing nearly $52,000.
Indigenous students at particular disadvantage
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students have a higher rate of income support and also face more financial difficulties, according to the survey.
Nearly half of all Indigenous students receive an income support payment, and 42 per cent have incomes that don’t cover their estimated expenses.
“It’s not acceptable that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are in a worse financial situation or that they struggle more, financially, while they’re studying,” Mark said.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are on average older than other students, and have more dependents – like kids, for example.
Indigenous students are underrepresented in tertiary education, despite big gains being made in recent years to close the gap.
“We have made some progress, and we really hope that progress can continue,” Catriona said.