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Study reveals uni student homelessness -

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Study reveals uni student homelessness

The World Today - Wednesday, 2 July , 2008 12:20:00

Reporter: Jennifer Macey

ELEANOR HALL: A survey by the University of Melbourne has found that the rental crisis is hitting
university students particularly hard with many struggling to find affordable accommodation close
to their campuses.

More than 400 students who are surveyed said they have to sleep on the couches of friends and
relatives and that the pressure of increasing rent, food and petrol costs means that they are
taking on more part-time work and have less time to study.

As Jennifer Macey reports, universities and students are now calling for a boost to government
income support to help students cope with a tighter rental market.

JENNIFER MACEY: Maddie and Michael are both 21 and study psychology and science at the University
of New South Wales in Sydney.

To help save on rent they've squeezed into one small bedroom in a four room share house in Sydney's
inner-west.

MADDIE: We have five people in a four bedroom house. The rent for the house is about 550.

My room is about 2.5 - three metres for two people which gets filled up very quickly with desk,
beds et cetera.

One of our flatmates also pays 130 and she lives in a room that's about 1.8 by 2.1.

And all she can fit in is really a desk, a single bed and just her clothes. And she's on Centrelink
but, and she has to work cash-in-hand to be able to afford to pay the rent and pay the bills.

JENNIFER MACEY: What about you? What sort of work do you do?

MICHAEL: I also get Centrelink and also earn cash-in-hand because to live in Sydney you can't
afford to live with just Centrelink.

The disadvantage of Centrelink is the cap is too low for students, the work, how much you can earn
per week. So it forces students into cash-in-hand jobs where they don't get the rights and
protection they really need.

JENNIFER MACEY: Michael guesses that some 80 per cent of the people in his course still live at
home, with some spending two hours a day travelling to and from uni.

His girlfriend Maddie says they were lucky to find affordable accommodation so close to the city.

MADDIE: Yes, it was really lucky that we got it and the previous tenants hadn't moved out and the
real estate agent was desperate. And it was in really bad shape.

There were cockroaches all through the kitchen and there was an infestation problem and stains and
holes and everything.

JENNIFER MACEY: But not all students are so lucky. The University of Melbourne surveyed its own
students and found 440 were effectively homeless or crashing on the couches of friends or relatives
who lived in the city.

Professor Sue Elliott is the Pro Vice-Chancellor at Melbourne University.

SUE ELLIOTT: It is very difficult for some students. We have emergency accommodation at the
university that is always full.

We used to be able to have students in there for just a period of about two weeks while we found
them further, more permanent accommodation. But we're having a lot of trouble moving those students
into accommodation because the rental costs are so high and the vacancy rate so low.

And it's much the same in any of the capital cities at the moment.

JENNIFER MACEY: Student organisations say higher living costs makes it more difficult for students
to live independently of their parents.

The president of the National Union of Students Angus McFarland says the Government should start by
boosting the current youth allowance benefit.

ANGUS MCFARLAND: Well it's about 50 per cent below the Henderson Poverty Line. I think it's a
maximum amount about $360 or $370 a fortnight.

So it's not a great amount of money in terms of living on it. And most students do have to work as
well as be on the government support.

It starts to become meaningless because as you work more, the government support disappears.

JENNIFER MACEY: He says students are taking on more part-time work to meet living costs and as a
result are studying less.

ANGUS MCFARLAND: We're having students forced into over 20, 30 hours a week in work, yet also
studying supposedly full-time, but just not going to class.

So we're paying more for our fees but going to class less, participating less in our university
life. And it's meaning that students overall are much worse off.

JENNIFER MACEY: Professor Sue Elliott suggests the Government could relax the age threshold for the
youth allowance so that students from rural areas aren't disadvantaged.

And she says the Government should consider introducing a similar HECS-type loan scheme to help
students with their rent and bills; that unlike university fees have to be paid up front.

SUE ELLIOTT: Now if we could have a similar system where you could take out loans that you would
not have to repay until you were employed and earning an income and that those loans covered your
living costs, I think that plus income support through youth allowance and Austudy might be a good
passage that would help many students.

JENNIFER MACEY: The universities and the student unions want these issues addressed in the
Government's higher education review.

The acting Federal Education Minister Brendan O'Connor's office says the Bradley review of higher
education will look at a wide range of matters and is expected to look at HECS arrangements.

A spokeswoman says the Government is keenly awaiting the report.

ELEANOR HALL: Jennifer Macey and that final report is due out at the end of the year.