By Christian Edwards
SYDNEY, July 16 — A record number of Australian university students are living “below the poverty line”, according to a wide-reaching report released Tuesday by Universities Australia (UA) amid mounting criticism of damaging cutbacks.
Universities Australia surveyed 12,000 full time under-graduate and post-graduate students discovering some two-thirds were at financial risk.
Over 20 percent of Aussie students an annual income of less than 10,000 Australian dollars and over 40 percent earned between 10,000 and 9,000 Australian dollars.
An Australian student, on average, enjoys an annual income of 18,634 Australian dollars for undergraduate students.
However, Australian student debt has risen by almost 30 percent in six years.
The UA research suggests one out of every five students goes without food or must skip a meal, up from one in eight in 2006.
Over half of Australian students rely their parents to keep studying.
Commenting on reports of students living in poverty and struggling to cope with increasing debt, Greens higher education spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon renewed her party’s call for the federal government to restore a controversial 2.3 billion Australian dollars cut from university budgets and boost base funding.
Adding weight to the Greens demands, two-thirds of undergraduates reported being worried about their financial situation, and the level of financial distress was even greater among Indigenous students and people from low socio-economic backgrounds.
“This report clearly shows that financial stress on university students is increasing,” Universities Australia chief Belinda Robinson said in a statement. “While the impact of this on dropout rates and future enrollments is unclear, it is of sufficient concern to justify close monitoring,” Robinson added.
The Australian government has cut 1.2 billion Australian dollars from the higher education budget by converting Start-Up Scholarships into loans, impacting 80,000 new students from next year.
Critics say that this policy will drive student debt up even further and is negatively skewed to students from low-income backgrounds.
The report estimates full-time students will graduate university with an estimated debt of more than 37,000 Australian dollars. The government’s cuts will increase that debt by an average 8200 Australian dollars or 22 percent for every student on Youth Allowance, the national student welfare scheme.
“It is particularly concerning that an increasing number of students are missing classes, going without food or other necessities,” Senator Rhiannon said.
Also according to the report, around four in every five Indigenous students worried about their financial situation, and around a third reported they regularly went without food and other necessities.
Indigenous undergraduate students were much more likely than non-Indigenous undergraduates to be funding their studies un- assisted. About two-thirds (66.3 per cent) reported receiving no financial support from family. The corresponding figure for non- Indigenous students was 49.7 per cent.
Senator Rhiannon said “The government needs to reverse its cuts to higher education and immediately increase public funding by 10 percent – costed at 1.5 billion Australian dollars over four years.”
“Due to chronic underfunding, many universities have resorted to squeezing students for cash by charging huge amounts for textbooks, ancillary course fees and increasing accommodation costs.”
Higher education is shaping up as a key issue in Australia’s upcoming election campaign.[db:内容2]
By Christian Edwards