University of the Sunshine Coast student Rosie Bradfield is struggling to afford to live on the Coast.
University of the Sunshine Coast student Rosie Bradfield is struggling to afford to live on the Coast. John McCutcheon

Impossible budget: Coast uni students are barely surviving

BEING a university student on the Sunshine Coast means living day-to-day on loose change.

It means watching every cent you spend to make sure you can afford to pay your rent, bills and put food on the table.

It means spending a full day doing assignments, study and exams, coming home and going straight back to work to scrape together a little income.

For some, being a student means living in borderline poverty.

Sippy Downs resident Rosie Bradfield is one of many young adults trying to support herself as a full-time student studying in one of Australia's most desirable and expensive cities.

She spends most of her time studying to complete her Bachelor of Nutrition Science.

But instead of taking a much-deserved break over the university holidays she hops on a bus and travels for six hours back to her home town in St George to work.

During the three month break she will work casually at the local fruit and veg shop, dabble in odd jobs for the council, trains PT clients and does relief work for the school.

By the end of the break she will have saved about $6000.

By the end of the next university semester that sum will have dwindled back to zero.

Ms Bradfield hasn't been able to find a job yet on the Coast and is ineligible for government assistance because both of her parents earn stable incomes above "the threshold".

"I didn't qualify for any Centrelink because my parents both have jobs," she said.

"It's super frustrating, I see all of my friends who have gone straight into full-time work and they can afford things but during my holidays I am still fully relying on my parents for food and living costs," she said.

"When I first moved here I was getting like $6.50 a fortnight from Centrelink because that is all I was eligible for, I would just laugh when I saw it go into my bank account.

"Even that was taken away when my dad changed jobs."

Ms Bradfield said having to completely rely on all the money she had saved while working, only to be struggling by the last few weeks of the next semester was disheartening.

"Yeah, it really does suck," she said. "I am just really lucky I can rely on the support of my parents when I need it, but there are students who don't have that ... I can't even imagine what that would be like.

"But even with all that money saved, the last few weeks of the semester are always really tough."

Ms Bradfield spends $165 a week in rent for a shared house - not including her water and electricity bills, $35 for internet, $15 a week for gym and $100 for food.

She also needs money for everyday living costs and fuel, occasional social outings and unexpected medical expenses.

But Ms Bradfield said that was the sacrifice she made to live the Coast lifestyle.

"I came from a small town that had basically nothing, living on the Sunshine Coast means you have everything close by. I think it is worth the struggle, but I think the government needs to consider people's personal circumstances. My parents work hard for their money, they shouldn't have to support me right up until I get a full-time job, it's unfair.

"The way Centrelink chooses how much people get paid should be based more on individual circumstance, the number of hours you study and the number of hours you can work.

"We want to contribute to society and get into the workforce and the government needs to support us students so that we can stay at university and graduate and start our careers successfully."

According to the University of the Sunshine Coast, a full-time student should spend 40 hours a week studying and a maximum of 10 hours a week working. More than 15-20 hours would cut into grades.

Basing those hours on the minimum wage and casual loading rate of about $21 an hour, students would earn anywhere between $215-$430 a week.

That's compared to the university's standard student spending budget of more than $500 a week, according to their website.

The university has support systems and counselling in place to help students on low incomes.

Visit www.usc.edu.au/explore/structure/divisions/student-wellbeing.