Young, Studious and Starving; Govt Urged to Consider Loan Scheme as More Students Seek Aid to Buy Food

Article excerpt

Byline: Patricia jackson and janine hill

A TOUGH job market and rising living costs have been blamed for increasing numbers of University of the Sunshine Coast students being unable to afford basic food items.

Food requests doubled from 164 in 2010 to 324 in 2011, according to university records.

The University's vice-chancellor, Professor Greg Hill, has urged the government to consider a student loan scheme to allow students to asurvivea while studying.

USC student equity and diversity officer Margot Blowers said housing affordability and the rising cost of living had driven the demand for help.

aI have noticed over the last 18 months a substantial increase in the number of requests from students seeking emergency food supplies from the food bank,a Ms Blowers said.

aApproximately 65% of these students have families to support.

aThe cost of renting on the Sunshine Coast has increased considerably over the last few years.

aStudents who are on Austudy or any of the Centrelink payments only just cover their rent and electricity. They are living below the poverty line.a

Latest Sunshine Coast Regional Council figures show an average annual rent increase of 9.5% on the Coast between 2001 and 2008 compared to a national annual average of 2.6%.

The Sunshine Coast Housing Needs Assessment background study showed that Coast rents were an average of 4% higher than the rest of south-east Queensland and 8.5% higher than the state as a whole.

Ms Blowers said an average fortnightly student rent was $350 and the standard Austudy and Youth Allowance was $400 a fortnight, bolstered by rent assistance of up to $90 for eligible students.

aStudents who have not been able to find a part-time job really struggle to survive on government assistance and are forced to drop their studies to find full-time employment,a she said.

The university introduced a $50 emergency student loan scheme three years ago in a bid to assist struggling students, some of whom had not eaten for days.

Prof Hill said the growing number of students seeking help could be partly due to the growth of the university and partly due to an increased awareness of available assistance, although he acknowledged that the Sunshine Coast was anot a cheap place to live. …