Broad access to student income support fundamental
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) welcomes the inclusion of postgraduate and Indigenous students in the AVCC's student finances survey for the first time. This is significant, and the findings certainly help to illustrate the reality of what is going on “students are struggling to cope with living costs, debt, and study expenses, and are being forced to work more hours at the expense of their academic work" CAPA President, Nigel Palmer said.
The report identifies full time coursework higher degree students as being among those enduring the most difficult financial circumstances. This dispels the popular myth that most of these students are somehow already well off. Many postgrads return to study later in life, often after a career change, with greater carer responsibilities and on-going financial commitments. Add to that the debt load from course fees and finance to support making ends meet, and you find many struggling just to finish their course of study.
Research students may seem comparatively fortunate in cases where they've earned a scholarship, however the reality is that over 60% of research students attempt their degrees without access to any form of income support at all. For scholarship holders, almost all are under-funded relative to their term of candidature. They also face a situation where financial hardship does not count as a reason to go part time, and even when they can (normally due to carer responsibilities) the government insists that they must pay tax on an otherwise tax-free stipend.
I think that postgrads in particular suffer under the status that seems to be attributed to being mere 'students'. There seems to be a romantic notion out there that being a poor, frugal student is fun, and it's great to skip meals and live on toast and instant noodles. Try explaining that to your kids at mealtime “ these people have the same kind of financial pressures, and the same kind of life pressures as everyone else. They have to balance these with the time and financial costs of pursuing their degree “ a task that this survey report reveals is becoming increasingly difficult.