Food And Housing Insecurity Biggest Barrier For Uni Students

Financial and mental stress are affecting university students' ability to study, a new survey has found.

The 2018 Higher Education Accommodation and Financial Stress Survey focused on the financial stress (such as housing and food security) that domestic and international students faced while in tertiary education.

About 1,200 people enrolled in tertiary education responded to the survey by researchers at the Swinburne University of Technology.

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More than half of respondents (55 percent) said financial stress had a direct impact on at least one area of study.

"There were also differences in the impact of financial stress according to levels of financial stress," the study said.

"Students with high levels of financial stress reported that this significantly impacted all areas of study more than those with moderate, or low levels of financial stress, respectively."

Almost 32 percent of students said financial stress prevented them from completing assessments "to the best of their ability", while almost 28 percent said financial stress stopped them from attending classes.

Nearly 14 percent said financial stress made them consider leaving university.

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Just under two-thirds of students said they had worked during the semester, with domestic students averaging about 17 hours a week (but ranged from zero to 55 hours).

Despite this, nearly 70 percent were on low incomes less than $20,000 and 50 percent received government benefits, with Youth Allowance being the most common.

Almost 16 percent of respondents said they had experienced food insecurity with hunger, meaning they had not eaten when hungry because they did not have enough money.

A further 11 percent claimed to have experienced some sort of food insecurity.

Free food services provided by the university, such as food banks and free meals, were accessed by nearly a third of students who otherwise would not have been able to afford to eat.

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The National Union of Students told 10 daily that financial stress and insecurity is one the biggest issues it advocates about.

"We’ve been saying for years that the government must raise the rate of Youth Allowance and other student income support," said Desiree Cai, President of the National Student Union.

"Students who have to rely on these income support payments are often living in poverty, and this report has shown that these vulnerable students are being left behind-- their academic performance, mental health and general wellbeing is suffering as a result."

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The results of this survey do not come as a shock, said Katie Acheson, CEO of Youth Action.

"We often hear from students that they are struggling to make ends meet," she told 10 daily.

For many students, pursuing tertiary education means they have to leave their homes and social networks, which can increase their financial and psychological stress.

"They have to live in cities which means higher rents, so managing work

"They also lose having those connections for work and places to live."

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The recent loss of penalty rates in sectors that students tend to work is also an added stress, she added.

Acheson said it's a "challenging time" for young people -- one that older generations don't understand.

"Things may seem similar to before, but there are many challenges now," she said.

"Rents are more expensive, and so is the cost of living than the 1980s. The standard of living for young people today is lower than older generations.

"And then there's the question of whether the degrees are worth it -- young people are taking on massive debts and are wondering if their degrees will help them."

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Australia is not the only country where young people are struggling to get ahead.

A recent survey in the United Kingdom have found a"poverty of hope" among young people, with more than two-thirds believing they will be worse off than their parents.

A Barnardo's-commissioned study found more than a third of 16 to 24-year-olds are negative about their future, citing a lack of jobs, money worries and high house prices.

Changes in the workforce and technological advances have left many, including Harry Scott, 16, nervous about their future when looking for jobs.

"With the technology evolving all the time it's hard for jobs to be secure because there's so much change that will only accelerate and certain jobs will become obsolete,' he said.

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Cai said the cost of living for students is often the biggest barrier for students continuing their education.

"Students are often faced with hard choices because of the cost of living," he said.

"They’re choosing between affording their next meal or their textbooks for the semester, they’re choosing between skipping classes to attend work, or losing those wages and going hungry."

With AAP.