Thursday, 13 October 2011

Increasing the cost of education and the unnoticed implications

A few days ago I was part of a conversation on Twitter that I've just been reminded of in which, basically, another user and I went off on a rant about tertiary education with poor Gareth Hughes (of the Greens party) on the receiving end. (Sorry about that Gareth!)

Something that came up that he hadn't been aware of was that in the last Budget (timing reference from @caffeine_addict since I wasn't sure myself when this had happened) a change was made to Studylink entitlements, namely that course-related costs can now only be borrowed by full-time students. For the few who may not be aware, there are three components of a student loan - course fees (paid directly to the university/etc), course-related costs (for buying textbooks and other such things - in my case this will include airfares to get to contact courses) and living costs (up to, unless it's changed recently, $150/week to survive on). The latter two are only for full-time students, and of course those who qualify for the student allowance don't usually bother with the living costs because borrowing money to live on is bad finances.

The problem is, as education gets more expensive and the cost of living increases, the number of people who can afford to be full-time students goes down. While it's possible to both work and study full-time, it requires a job with flexible hours and good time management skills, and in an economy where hundreds of people apply for minimum wage supermarket jobs, the chances of getting such a job aren't great. So basically we have a situation where more and more students are being classified as part-time, and at the same time the financial assistance offered to part-time students is getting more and more limited, which is why situations like mine are so common where without limited full-time classifications it would be impossible for me to go back to university - and if I was under 25 I'd only be able to do it by borrowing money to live on, thanks to the student allowance criteria that means-test a student's parents.

And, of course, these changes are going under the radar. Gareth didn't even know about the course-related costs change and he's an MP - albeit not one in the education field, so I don't blame him, there's a hell of a lot to keep track of - so people who went to university a decade or two ago most likely assume that funding is just as easy, or even moreso, now than it was back then.

(The discussion also touched on the preponderance of scholarships and aid for trades students while other sectors have absolutely nothing at all, but by god I have complained about that more than enough and besides which it's a failing of the very nature of private scholarships [which for the most part I support] rather than government policy.)

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