Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Regional Tertiary Students and Living Away from Home: A Priceless Experience That Costs Too Much?

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Regional Tertiary Students and Living Away from Home: A Priceless Experience That Costs Too Much?

Article excerpt

Introduction

Changes in government policies over recent years have increasingly moved tertiary education in Australia to a 'user pays' (Birrell, Dobson, Rapson & Smith n.d.) model, giving rise to concern that greater numbers of students are forced to live in poverty in order to complete their tertiary education (Marginson & Considine 2000; Withers 2002). While there are many definitions of poverty, the definition of relative poverty used by the Australian Bureau of Statistics "implies that poverty is defined not in terms of a lack of sufficient resources to meet basic needs, but rather as lacking the resources required to be able to participate in the lifestyle and consumption patterns enjoyed by other Australians" (Saunders 1996:1). Many studies have shown that university students are experiencing increasing levels of relative poverty as they struggle to meet the financial commitments of gaining a tertiary education (Frydenberg & Rowley 1998; LTU 2000; Newton & Turale 2000; Tao, Pratt & Pancerl 2000; Turale 1998, 2001). It is not known to what extent financial hardship impinges on students' academic achievement.

While a great deal of research has been devoted to the transition from primary school to secondary school (eg: Anthanasou 2001; Cole 2000; Rice 1998), the transition from secondary school to university has received relatively less attention. Transition to university can be challenging and can be associated with social, emotional, academic and financial stresses (Tao, Pratt & Pancerl, 2000). A recent review of ten years of national data gathering on this issue identified the need for ongoing and increased collaboration between schools and universities on preparing students for university (Krause, Hartley, James & McInnis, 2005). Estimates of the annual living expenses for university students are around $AUD 14,000 (excluding tuition) (University of Southern Queensland 2003). Information regarding how much the average university student can afford per year is limited. However, a recent study undertaken at La Trobe University (LTU) in 2000 found that the average annual student income (including wages, government benefits and parental support) was approximately $AUD 11,800 (LTU, 2000) which is clearly short of the $AUD 14,000 required for living expenses. Similar figures were reported from a recent Federal Government study into poverty (Australian Senate 2004) which reported the mean income of an individual university student needs to be $AUD 12,513 per annum. This gap between cost and income may explain why some students start university and later discontinue (Turale & Lloyd, n.d.).

Approximately 54% of university students in Australia are school leavers (Dobson 2001), however it is recognised that this percentage varies greatly from university to university. Interestingly, a recent Department of Education, Science and Training report (DEST n.d.) showed that the perceived cost of university was found to be a major deterrent for both high and low socio-economic status (SES) school leavers, yet 39% of low SES school leavers felt that university fees would prevent them from attending university. Further, it was found that higher education is seen as less personally relevant by rural or geographically isolated students, particularly those from lower or middle SES backgrounds (DEST n.d.). A recent report by the University of Ballarat (a regional university in Victoria) showed that 60% of enrolled students were first generation university students (Cox 2005). Additionally, data from LTU (Bendigo campus) showed that in 2003 11% of enrolled students had parents with tertiary degrees, compared to 18% on non-regional campuses (LTU 2003a). This indicates that from an early stage, rural/regional school leavers differ from other school leavers. Recognising this and taking into account the well-documented disadvantage attached to some aspects of living in rural and regional Australia (Baum 1998; McManus & Pritchard 2000; National Rural Health Policy Forum 1999), the economic well-being of rural university students is worthy of close inspection. …

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