University students going hungry as cost of living hits: report, SBS News

A rising cost of living is forcing university students to go without basic necessities.

A new survey has found more and more Australian university students are going hungry.

The Universities Australia report has found about one in seven students in 2017 regularly went without food and other necessities because they could not afford them.

For regional students and those from low socio-economic backgrounds, that figure rises to one in five, while one-quarter of Indigenous students went without because of financial hardship.

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson says international students are also struggling.

“There are some additional pressures if you come from an overseas country. Think about it. They can’t go home for dinner,” Ms Jackson said.

“So if you’re a 17 or18-year-old who really is a bit short, in some cases you can pop home to mum or dad, or aunt and uncle, for the big Sunday night tea and that helps quite a lot.

A student works on a laptop at the University of Sydney in Sydney on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. AAP

“You can’t pop home to Malaysia, China or Indonesia to have dinner with your parents. I think also there’s a sense in which for international students these struggles are somehow just born within their own communities. So it can be isolating.”

The report has found the median annual income for full-time students is $18,300, with one-third of students estimating their living expenses exceeded their income.

One in three students surveyed also said they regularly missed university lectures and classes because they had to work.

Ms Jackson says many are forced to defer studies or reduce their course loads to cope.

University student Sean Young said he found juggling his finances with study a shock after moving to Sydney from Tasmania to do a Bachelor of Commerce in International Business and Marketing.

“It’s definitely difficult having to find the hours to work and then having to choose between study time and work time,” he told SBS News.

Sean Young,19, is doing a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of Sydney and struggles to balance work with study. SBS

He says he has to work because the student allowance he receives “barely pays the rent”.

“I work basically to pay all other expenses, I work about 20 hours a week just to get by,” he said. “I’d love to work more but it’s not really possible with my workload and study load.”

Study less, work more

Mr Young is now contemplating scaling back his course-load to three subjects a semester to work more in order to pay for his text books, and he’s not alone.

Of the more than 18,500 students who took part in the survey, one-third of undergraduate students receive income support from the government – such as Austudy, Abstudy and Youth Allowance.

National Union of Students president Mark Pace says rising costs for students are making higher education less accessible.

“A research report from UNSW (University of New South Wales) last year showed that a single student, the bare minimum they need to live is about $430 a week, whereas a single rate of Newstart currently is about $278,” Mr Pace said.

“So there’s a huge gap there between someone who’s on income support and the poverty line. And what we need to do, we need to increase the rate of Newstart, increase the rate of other income support measures for university students so that they can complete their studies and they do have access to further opportunities with their qualifications.”

Mr Pace says many university students are receiving an inadequate amount of income support from the federal government.

He says that needs to change.

“Underemployment is rife, unemployment as well,” he said.

“And on top of that we’ve seen a shift towards the punitive welfare system which rather than supporting our students through their university degree, in many circumstances they are actually hindering students by issuing them debt notices and actually working against supporting them throughout their university studies.”

Minister for Social Services Dan Tehan on Monday said the government was spending billions of dollars to support students and in this year’s Budget invested an additional $53.9 million to make it easier for regional students to access Youth Allowance.

“The Federal Government provides $17 billion a year to fund higher education. Federal taxpayers pay for more than half the cost of students’ courses as well as backing the loans students take out to cover the remaining costs,” Mr Tehan said in a statement.


(First published on SBS News on August 13 2018)

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