Stu­dents work­ing yet strug­gling to af­ford text­books, re­port finds

The Guardian Australia - - News - Christopher Knaus

Univer­sity stu­dents are be­ing failed by a “grossly in­ad­e­quate” so­cial safety net, and are work­ing so much that it is com­pro­mis­ing their study, a new re­port has found.

Angli­care, a not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion, re­leased the re­sults of a sur­vey of 1,985 Aus­tralian stu­dents on Wednesday, and they re­vealed a grim fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion for many, par­tic­u­larly those with­out the sup­port of wealthy fam­i­lies.

Eighty-five per cent of stu­dents did not be­lieve Cen­tre­link ben­e­fits were enough to cover the costs of liv­ing and study­ing, while 89% re­ported strug­gling to buy text­books and other items es­sen­tial for their study.

The vast ma­jor­ity of stu­dents were in paid work, and one in five worked more than 20 hours a week. Sig­nif­i­cantly, 40% of those in paid work re­ported they had been paid in­cor­rectly, prompt­ing con­cerns of young worker ex­ploita­tion.

About 82% said the amount of time they spent at work hurt their study. About half said they were strug­gling to meet their rent pay­ments.

Many re­lied on fam­ily as­sis­tance to sur­vive. Stu­dents from the most dis­ad­van­taged fam­i­lies were, un­sur­pris­ingly, the most likely to re­port “se­vere fi­nan­cial stress” and work so much that their stud­ies were com­pro­mised.

Kasey Cham­bers, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor at Angli­care Aus­tralia, said the fed­eral gov­ern­ment must use next year’s bud­get to boost sup­port for stu­dents. “More than ever, young peo­ple are ex­pected to at­tend univer­sity if they can. But there are mas­sive ob­sta­cles for stu­dents whose par­ents can’t af­ford to sup­port them,” Cham­bers said.

“Stu­dents who rely on Youth Al­lowance or Aus­tudy are strug­gling to pay rent and make ends meet. And many of those who aren’t el­i­gi­ble have to work so many hours that it is harm­ing their stud­ies.”

The re­port found stu­dents’ in­ter­ac­tions with Cen­tre­link were “frus­trat­ing, of­ten hos­tile and an ad­di­tional bur­den of time and source of stress for many stu­dents”.

“Rais­ing Youth Al­lowance, Aus­tudy and Ab­study so that they are ad­e­quate to cover the cost of liv­ing and study, in­clud­ing hous­ing, is one ob­vi­ous and ur­gent need. Other pol­icy changes, such as en­sur­ing proper rental rights in­clud­ing for those liv­ing in univer­sity ac­com­mo­da­tion, should also be ex­plored,” the re­port said.

Cham­bers said a “huge” num­ber of stu­dents re­ported be­ing hit with in­ac­cu­rate debts, even where they were re­port­ing cor­rectly.

The Na­tional Union of Stu­dents warned the safety net was fail­ing stu­dents.

The Greens sen­a­tor Rachel Siew­ert said the re­port showed how dif­fi­cult univer­sity had be­come for stu­dents from low- or mid­dle-in­come fam­i­lies. “We want to be en­sure that all young Aus­tralians who want to go to uni get that op­por­tu­nity,” she said.

“Of­fer­ing them a mea­gre Youth Al­lowance pay­ment that re­duces their prospects of fin­ish­ing their de­gree be­cause of fi­nan­cial hard­ship is so short-minded of our gov­ern­ment.”

“I urge the gov­ern­ment to take heed of the re­port and in­crease the Youth Al­lowance, Aus­tudy and Ab­study pay­ments.”

Angli­care says univer­sity stu­dents face a grim fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion af­ter sur­vey­ing 1,985 of them. Pho­to­graph: Ull­stein Bild/Getty Images

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