University students
University students Brett Wortman

Crisis as education costs force students into poverty

A NEW loan for living expenses could be an option for a growing number of students identified by a landmark survey as struggling to keep up with the cost of education.

University students are being swallowed up by debt, according to the Universities Australia survey out today, which suggests almost one in five were going without food to pay the bills.

Although jokes have long been made about the tertiary student subsisting on noodles and living on couches to scrape by, responses from more than 11,000 local and international students show the situation is growing more serious.

The report found those at university - both undergraduate and post-graduate - now owed an average debt of $37,217, up almost $10,000 from six years earlier.

The financial straits were even more pronounced for those who entered university from poorer areas or indigenous backgrounds.

In 2006, 59% of students surveyed agreed to the statement, "My financial situation is often a source of worry to me".

In 2012, that number increased to 68.3% - encompassing more than two-thirds of all students.

That figure increases to 78.9% for students from indigenous backgrounds.

During the same period, the percentage of students who admitted to regularly going without food to save money rose from 14.7% to 18.2%.

About half reported that working longer hours while studying was hurting their performance at university.

The report asked students whether they would consider a "HECS-style loan for living costs" if it existed.

More than half backed the scheme, although some feedback from students said more debt was not the answer for students already grappling with HECS.

One student told researchers a European-style interest free loan would be ideal.

UA chief executive Belinda Robinson said the report showed how heavily money problems weighed on the shoulders of students.

"While the impact of this on dropout rates and future enrolments is unclear, it is of sufficient concern to justify close monitoring," she said.

"Particularly in the context of meeting the government's goal to have 20% of students from low (economic) backgrounds enrolled by 2020."

A report by Universities Australia has found:

  • 17% of students "regularly" go without food to save money.
  • More than 25% work more than 25 hours per week.
  • 50% felt working hurt their ability to study
  • 66% earn less than $20,000 a year - below the poverty line.
  • Of those, 21% earn less than $10,000 a year.
  • 50% rely on financial help from their family

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