Australia's 700,000 university
students have been offered their
own new IBM computer, fully equipped and with free access to the internet for just A$9.50 (Pounds 3.65) a week.
The National Union of Students is offering the deal to every tertiary student in the country. Students pay a one-off fee of A$60, plus A$9.50 a week over three-and-a-half years. At the end of this period, the computer will belong to them.
As well as the computer, which is home-delivered and installed free of charge, students have four hours' internet access a week, plus free email, a free web home page, instant messaging, email lists and "heaps of other community tools".
The NUS is only one among dozens of organisations - including unions, industry superannuation funds and even the Catholic church - that are able to offer their members the rent-buy computer and internet access through an arrangement with a company called Virtual Communities.
The company was founded last year with the intention of providing every Australian family with a cheap computer and access to the internet.
Chris Clarke, its chief executive, said that since it began, the scheme had attracted tens of thousands of inquiries.
"We have been inundated with requests from different groups, and we are holding discussions with state government agencies and even football clubs," Mr Clarke said.
For the start of the academic year, the NUS also launched its own web page, unistudent.com. The site has chat rooms, free email, an online diary and a comprehensive search engine, which has been specially designed for tertiary students.
"The potential for this site is unlimited, and it will act as a student community in cyberspace," said Australian NUS president Lisa Johnstone.
"Unistudent.com will have something for everyone, with academic advice, discounts, research support for student organisations and the latest campaign materials from NUS."
Ms Johnstone said the union was calling on students to publish articles and columns on issues that interested and affected them - ranging from cinema and book reviews to favourite recipes and "the dilemmas of shared-house living".
The website would enable the union to incorporate "e-actions" into campaigns, as well as offering chat rooms that would allow students the opportunity to share ideas and discuss issues across the nation, Ms Johnstone said.