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Student Affairs

Monash Students Can’t Afford to Eat While University Spends Lavishly

Artwork By Lin Rahman

 

In a recent survey of Monash University students, the MSA has found that most students overwhelmingly lack the funds needed to meet the cost of living.

 

In a series of surveys conducted by the MSA Education and Welfare Departments, 62% of students said they don’t earn enough to cover basic living expenses. This is hardly surprising when 64.1% of students say they earn between $0 – $5000 a year to cover, by the University’s own estimates, $23,607 of average yearly expenses, that represent everything from the cost of housing to the price of transport.

Monash students aren’t the only ones copping it. Universities Australia has discovered that two-thirds of Australian university students live below the poverty line, adding to the already dire picture of student economic insecurity. Factoring in research produced by the National Union of Students, the data reveals that a staggering 17% of students regularly go without food or other necessities while 55% of students are also paying down debt.

Though student poverty is an issue that generations of young people before us have had to overcome, Welfare experts warn that students’ ability to fund their living expenses is becoming more difficult every year. Stuart Martin, head of the Student Financial Advisors Network, warned in a recent ABC article that financial assistance provided by the Government to students ‘is considerably well below the poverty line’.

If students are predominantly impoverished, and Australia’s cost of living is climbing with each successive year, how are students meant to stay afloat? Do Australia’s public universities, as bastions of free thought and student life, have a duty to help their students when Government support is recklessly inadequate?

The MSA says abso-fucking-lutely.

Some financial services are already available. The University provides limited financial counselling and support through Monash Connect, offering students personal budgeting advice and information about eligibility for government benefits.  Students can also access interest-free, short-term loans, however these can’t be used to pay course fees and they incur a 15.25% penalty if the loan isn’t repaid by the due date. While Monash should be commended for offering a few services, they must do more. Acknowledging that excessive course fees are sucking student bank balances dry would be a wise place to start.

Monash isn’t transparent when it comes to the true cost of studying at University. For domestic students, they know that university-related expenses don’t end with tuition fees covered by HECS. In responses to the survey, students listed a range of hidden fees that Monash charges throughout the semester, the most commonly cited examples being: textbooks, field trips, sheet music, lab coats and kitchen-practical uniforms, printing services and accompanying musicians for performance exams. These costs exemplify the compulsory fees that students have no choice but to pay in order to pass their units.   

Students from the School of Music who compulsorily undertake performance exams incur unfair and prohibitive additional fees. To cover the wage of a Faculty-mandated accompanying musician, students are forced to pay a fee of $90 per-hour of their exam. While many students in the School are performing several exams, administrators know they will require this service each semester as it is essential to how the School conducts their assessments. This cost could and should therefore be reflected in tuition fees. Non-music students don’t pay an extra fee for Exam Invigilators, so why must Music students pay extra? When the MSA spoke with students within the School of Music, many revealed they weren’t aware of this fee prior to enrolment. This is a dishonest and unfair practice for which the University needs to be held accountable.  

In 2016, total fees charged by the University to students rose by 3%, almost double the rate at which prices across the Australian economy rose during the same period. Monash now generates more revenue from fees and charges than they do from Government funding, demonstrating the apparently little-known fact that young people pay for their tertiary education. Some might say these increasing fees are inevitable in an increasingly corporatised world. Inevitable too then, must be the shameless 21 million dollars Monash forked out in 2016 to pay for business advisory services.

Monash University students are forcibly charged $90 an hour to sit an exam while Monash spends millions employing the services of over 30 top-tier consultancy firms.

Such flagrant profligacy must not go unchecked.

If Monash considers improving their embarrassingly low satisfaction rate a priority, they must take student welfare seriously. Most students whose marks leave them at risk of failing their course don’t find themselves in such a position because they’re lazy or stupid. Students fail because work commitments leave them underpaid and short on time. Students fail because they feel unsafe sharing a campus with their rapist. Students fail because they are burdened by every economic metric proclaiming that a job will not likely be available for them at graduation.

In Semester 2, the MSA will be leading a campaign tackling student poverty and the cost of living. One feature of that campaign will be a campus-wide push to encourage the University to waive a range of hidden course fees. To achieve this we will be working with students from across Monash who would like to see their Faculties address these unfair, unnecessary and prohibitive fees. Fighting for the internalisation of hidden fees is a meaningful step we can take towards easing the cost of living pressures on students.

Stay tuned for further information on how to get involved with this campaign. If you have an idea or proposal to help struggling students meet the cost of living and escape the scourge of poverty, we’d love to hear from you! Chuck us a message through our MSA Education or MSA Welfare Facebook pages.

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