Poverty forces students out of university courses
It's now ten years since the last Bureau of Statistics survey of student finances and a shocking 17 years since the last Department of Education survey on that subject. Does this indicate that the government doesn't care if our students starve? They should. A new survey by the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee (AVCC) has found that 70 percent of students are now being forced to seek work in order to survive while doing their courses. This is only the fourth such survey ever to have been carried out. Students are now being forced by economic circumstances to put their academic results, and their chances of graduating, at serious risk. It is likely that the academic performance of most if not all of the working students is adversely affected. Most seriously affected are those students (more than one third of the total enrollments) who are forced to cut classes in order to work, according to the AVCC report. These students work, on average, two days per week, in order to support themselves. Given the extraordinary demands imposed on students time by modern tertiary education courses, this represents an almost insurmountable barrier to graduation for most students. The Austudy rules impose a parental income threshold of $26,000 not including rental assistance. At this level many parents would be hard pressed to support themselves let alone their sons and daughters while studying.) The Howard government has so far dismissed appeals from the Democrats and others to link student income to pension increases. Women are particularly disadvantaged, because the employment structure favours men in terms of employee sponsorship. Approximately twice as many men as women are supported by employer payments of course fees and HECS payments. The leader of the Democrats, Natasha Stott-Despoja, last week stated that "...the Government's inadequate and restrictive student income support measures are a false economy, as the community is not gaining the optimum benefits of university education."