University students go hungry while amassing large debts

One in five university students reports going without food.

The National Tertiary Education Union released this statement on July 16.

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The release of Universities Australia’s report, University student finances in 2012, on July 15 clearly shows that students need much more support while they are studying at university, Jeannie Rea National President of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) said today.

“It’s a national disgrace that almost one in five university students reports going without food and ends up graduating with an average debt of almost $38,000,” Rea said.

“While the report acknowledges that the changes introduced by the Labor government resulted in student income support being better targeted, it is unacceptable that 17% of students regularly go without food and other necessities. A university degree should be built on more than two-minute noodles.

“Eighty percent of full-time university students have a job to support themselves and they work, on average, 16 hours a week. Around a quarter of those with jobs work more than 20 hours a week so altogether it’s no surprise that over half of all students indicated that work was interfering with their studies.

“Over many years working in a university, I have seen too many students stop attending classes and submitting assignments because they need to take on more hours of paid work. Their performances suffer and, too often, they end up abandoning their courses but still have to pay their accumulated HECS debt.”

Australian students pay among the highest tuition fees to attend a public university in the world. These fees, which are repaid through the income contingent HECS scheme, range from $18,000 to $60,000, Rea said.

“The report confirms that student debt is rising. Between 2006 and 2012, the average real (adjusted for inflation) level of debt for an undergraduate student rose from about $29,000 to $38,000; an increase of $9000 or 30%.

“This rapid increase in student debt confirms NTEU’s own estimates which indicate that HECS debts are rising at a rate of about $12 million every day and that, by 2016, the level of outstanding HECS debt will be larger than Australia’s credit card debt, which currently hovers around $50 billion.”

Every dollar spent on Australian universities and their students should be seen as an investment in the future — not as a short-term cost to the budget, Rea said.

“Compared to other Australians, university graduates have lower unemployment rates, earn higher incomes (on average about $1 million over their working lives) and pay higher taxes ($400,000 on average).

“Our universities are in need of greater funding, but it would be short-sighted in the extreme to see this as trade off against insufficient student income support or higher tuition (HECS) fees.”

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