We’re still studying below the poverty line
IT’S ironic that many of us who benefited from a free university education in the 1970s and ’ 80s are footing the bill for the degrees of our offspring. A kind of HECS debt delayed by decades.
My parents made no financial contribution towards my upkeep when I was a student. Indeed, I was only able to commence tertiary study by winning an academic scholarship.
In my second year these were abolished by the government, and replaced with student allowances providing enough to live on, albeit frugally, for any fulltime student. Many students supplemented the allowance with vacation work, but those of us with 35 contact hours a week were spared the necessity to take jobs during term.
The Howard Government is making much of its latest tranche of higher- education reforms, the Realising Our Potential funding package announced in the 2007 budget.
It promises an additional $ 222 million to improve access to tertiary education for students by allocating:
$ 91 million for wealth scholarships;
$ 87 million for rent assistance to Austudy recipients; and
$ 43 million to extend the eligibility for youth allowance and Austudy.
Expenditure on Commonwealth Learning Scholarships ( to be renamed Commonwealth Scholarships next year) has increased each year to a total of more than $ 95.2 million in 2007.
common- This consists of $ 37.5 million for Commonwealth Education Costs Scholarships and $ 57.8 million for Commonwealth Accommodation Scholarships, with stipends of $ 2120 per annum and $ 4240 per annum respectively.
Yet when only 2.5 per cent of full- time undergraduates receive these scholarships, and the past six years have seen a decrease in the number of dollars derived from Centrelink payments, rent assistance and schemes such as Youth Allowance ( from $ 2419 to $ 2160), these measures are unlikely to much improve the financial hardship faced by students.
During the same period, the amount of total income from paid work rose from 51 per cent to 66 per cent. There was also an increase in parental assistance, with 60 per cent of students often relying on them for meals and free accommodation, and to a lesser extent for telephone/ computer/ motor vehicle use and textbooks.
Despite students spending an average of 14.8 hours a week in poorly paid work with no relevance to their degree, their parents and partners still carry the burden of providing for their basic needs, because no combination of government assistance and allowed earnings can generate sufficient income.
The situation is alleviated for the fortunate few who win various other undergraduate scholarships, but amounts are usually less than $ 2000. A handful reaches $ 5000 to $ 10,000, but in contrast to more plentiful postgraduate stipends, just two offer support above the poverty line for the duration of study.
These are the $ 20,000 per annum teaching scholarships from the Queensland Department of Education and the Arts, and the $ 22,744 annual medical rural bonded scholarships from the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing. The 122 recipients must commit to spending the first four and six years, respectively, of their careers in rural or remote locations. They alone, of Australia’s 624,156 undergraduate students, or 0.02 per cent, receive full financial support from government through their years of study. This is a disgrace.
It is admirable that access to tertiary education has expanded in recent years, but once over the threshold of scholarship eligibility, what then? Would it not make sense to enable undergraduates to spend the bulk of their time studying?
The days of free tertiary education are gone, but its graduates are now the policy makers of today. What short memories they must have, to allocate such meagre resources for student support.
A review is in order — more scholarships with larger stipends for more students — to produce more graduates more quickly.