One in seven university students regularly go without food and other necessities because they cannot afford them, the latest national financial survey of Australian university students has found.
This rises to one in four Indigenous students and almost one in five students from the poorest quarter of Australian households, including those who are also shouldering the costs of raising children.
The Universities Australia Student Finances Survey 2017 surveyed more than 18,500 university students about their cost of living and day-to-day financial reality.
While the financial circumstances of students overall appear to have improved slightly since the last survey in 2012, this is because students are spending less while their incomes have stalled.A significant proportion are still doing it tough – with students from poorer backgrounds, Indigenous and regional students hardest hit.
Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said financial hardship is hurting students’ education, with many students deferring studies or reducing their course load for financial reasons.
“Students studying full-time are only living on $18,000 a year — that’s well below the poverty line,” Ms Jackson said.
“Education is meant to come first when you are studying, but we know that for some groups of students who live life on the financial edge, that’s just not their reality. Many students are trying to get rent and bills paid, and some are trying to keep food on the table for their own children, while juggling paid jobs and their studies. Our students should have the basic financial security and stability to perform at their best. Yet that’s simply not the case for many students from disadvantaged groups.”
Education is meant to come first when you are studying, but we know that for some groups of students who live life on the financial edge, that’s just not their reality
National Union of Students President Mark Pace said there were countless students who forfeit food or experience homelessness while they study. “One in a million students choosing between food on the table and their education is too many, let alone one in seven,” Mr Pace said.
“There hasn’t been an increase to Newstart in real terms for 24 years. The single rate of Newstart is $278 per week, when we know essentials, such as rent and food cost $433. The Government must prioritise increasing income support to allow students access to higher education and the enormous opportunities it provides for millions of Australians.”
The survey also shows the vast majority of university students support themselves through paid work. “For some, this is a chance to gain valuable work experience and skills that will help fast-track them into a full-time job after they graduate,” Ms Jackson said. “But for many, the amount of work they need to do to support themselves financially comes at a cost to their studies.”
Two in five students said their paid work adversely affects their university performance, and one in three regularly missed lectures because they had to work.