The student experience

June 28, 1996

Student loans injected a dose of financial reality into Australian universities. Linda Christmas look at the results.

Cheryl Stewart 28, has a three-year-old daughter and is studying for a masters at Wollongong University.

"My first degree was from Charles Sturt University. I would have liked to have done my MA in journalism there but they wanted the fees paid up-front. That was out of the question. At Wollongong I can defer payment, It is Aus$307 dollars (Pounds 150) a unit: and there will be 12 over the 18 months.

"I do not remember how much debt I incurred as an undergraduate; maybe Aus$5,000. I do not think about the debt, I know I will have to pay sometime. Maybe not! Maybe by the time I earn enough they will have changed the rules again.

"My major expense is the Aus$140 a week I pay for a two-bedroom flat. As a single parent I get around Aus$250 a week from an Austudy grant and rent allowance plus maintenance from my daughter's father and a bit of help from my parents. My dad is an electrician and my mum does not work. They give me Aus$50 dollars a week and I do not want them to give me more because I could not stand the pressure. As it is I feel I have to ring them when I have done well on an assignment so that they know their Aus$50 is well spent."

Corrine Frank, 20: has a BA in commerce from University of New South Wales. She paid her fees up-front both as an undergraduate and postgraduate. Her father is an eye doctor.

"My parents suggested I pay as I go along, They help and I did a lot of part-time work as an undergraduate, I worked two or three nights a week as a waitress, plus a full day as a secretary. It was pretty pressurised, but I managed. I am still quite young, so I thought getting a job for a bit before starting a postgraduate course, but then decided to get all the study over with. I live in a flat now for which I pay Aus$95 a week. My parents are helping me once again. I've only been on the course for a month and I wanted to settle down before organising jobs."

Claudia Carr, 21, reading politics at Wollongong, has parents who are divorced. Her mother is a teacher.

"I have deferred all my fees and that includes around Aus$7,000, There aren't many jobs you can get with only one degree so I automatically decided to do a postgraduate course. I lived at home for some of my undergraduate years, and I could still live at home but I prefer to have freedom and pay for it by working. I don't want my mum paying out for me. She has done enough. Now I am working every morning for four hours as a secretary and on Sunday for three hours in a sports shop. I attend lectures in the afternoon and evening. reckon I need Aus$150 a week to live on and that includes Aus$60 for my share of the rent. I certainly could not have afforded to pay fees for a postgraduate course, but to be able to defer them is great. "

Stuart Milling, 26, civil engineer.

"I read engineering at Wollongong University and lived at home while I was doing the four-year degree and worked during the holidays. I finished my degree at the end of 1992 and got a job straight away with a firm of consulting engineers. I started paying back in 1994, I wasn't happy being asked for a lump sum at the end of the tax year, but now they take it from my salary each fortnight. It's a reasonable system. I pay Aus$50 and my debt is between Aus$8,000-10,000. I don't know how long it will take me to pay it back. Maybe five years. From time to time I intend to pay an extra lump sum off the debt because it does rise with inflation so you do end up paying more."

Alexia Maddox, 19, second-year German and media studies at University of Queensland.

"The first year I lived at home and paid the fees up-front by working as a shop assistant for ten hours a week and during the holidays. This year I've left home so I've had to defer the fees and work a lot more. I still do ten hours as a shop assistant, but I also work three nights a week in a restaurant. I prefer to work more and have independence. I need to be organised to do all this work and my studies, but I think I work better under pressure rather than having lots of time. HECS is a good system. It lets all people have a chance at university rather than just those with money. It is better to have to pay something. You place more importance on education if it is not completely free."

Nigel Moore, 19, first-year, two degrees in human movement and journalism at University of Queensland.

"I did a year at another university, but it didn't work out. I wasn't motivated, I was living at home and it felt like a continuation of school. Now, I've started again and I'm doing two degrees in parallel. I want to be either a fitness trainer or a sports journalist. I'm living in college on campus because I can then play sport for the college. It is expensive. It costs Aus$190 a week but I get my own room and three meals a day. My father, who is a GP, is paying. He also gives me Aus$100 a week and he is also paying my fees. He said that his father paid for him, he will pay for me and I pay for my children. That seems fair. I will try and get a job but it is difficult because I am playing so much sport.

"I think it is too easy to get into uni now; some people get in on very poor marks. On the whole I think the government should pay and it should be tougher to get in. There are lots of people at university now who don't know why they are there. Some degrees are so general they mean nothing and people end up dropping out. There are more people with degrees than there are jobs."

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