August 2018



Every five years or so, since the mid-1970s, the peak body for Australia's universities has undertaken a detailed study of the cost of living challenges for our students.

Universities Australia (UA) funds this survey to enable us to understand the financial circumstances of students across the nation. This information has value for students, their families, university staff and leaders, including Vice-Chancellors who commission the survey through UA. It's also valuable to the Australian public, and—of course—the nation's policy-makers and Parliamentary decision-makers.

So we begin by thanking the more than 18,500 students who contributed their time and information to help us gather this latest data snapshot in 2017. Your data informs public policy.

The picture revealed in the 2017 Universities Australia Student Finances Survey is one that warrants our continuing concern. While the data suggests a slight improvement in the financial circumstances for students overall, the financial hardship faced by some groups of students—particularly for some Indigenous students and some from the poorest one-fifth of Australian households—is particularly stark.

One in seven domestic students say they regularly go without food or other necessities because they can't afford them. And three in five domestic students say their finances are a source of worry.

One Indigenous full-time student told us: "I don't eat much anymore." Another undergraduate student put it this way: "The stress of constantly worrying about how to pay next (month's) rent or simply paying for food is really hard." A postgraduate student undertaking a higher degree by research was even more bleak: "I am seriously considering deferring or withdrawing from my study due to extreme hardship."

Beyond its findings on those students in financial hardship, the Universities Australia Student Finances Survey 2017 also reveals a large number of university students support themselves through paid work. Four in five domestic students have a job while studying. For some, this is a chance to gain valuable work experience and skills that will help to fast-track them into a full-time job after they graduate. But, for many uni students, the amount of paid work they need to do to support themselves financially comes at a cost to their studies. For students who are financially independent—that is, those without a partner or family helping to support them financially—this is even more acute. One in two financially-independent students said their paid work adversely affects their university performance. And one in three regularly missed uni lectures or classes because they had to work.

This latest snapshot is another valuable contribution to the nation's understanding of university students' financial circumstances. We thank everyone who worked on and contributed to this important project—and we commend it to you.

Catriona Jackson Chief Executive Universities Australia
Professor Margaret Gardner Chair Universities Australia
Professor David Lloyd Chair 2017 UA Student Finances Survey Steering Committee

For the full report, click here (PDF 1.5MB).