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1 in 8 students miss a meal regularly because of lack of money and 1 in 2 students report that their studies are adversely affected by financial stress. Students from regional Australia suffer huge relocation costs.

NUS is calling on the government to lower the age of independence, make means testing fair and increase the cost of payments and more. 

Fair Income Support & Youth Allowance [reference page] [Policy Information on this page and subpages must be referenced to Graham Hastings, NUS Research Officer 2009. I was wondering whether there was some Creative Commons like logo that could stylishly remind our users of this]  NUS believes that student poverty represents a barrier to equitable access to University education in Australia.  The Youth Allowance system must be universally accessible to all prospective students. The complicated means testing leaves many students who aren’t supported by their parents unable to access youth allowance and unable to go to university.  The Youth Allowance payments must be increased so students can be adequately supported to study. Currently, payments do not equate with the cost of living in major cities, students are sacrificing class and study time to work long hours in low paid jobs.   NUS has made its demands on Government to immediately take action to improve the rate and accessibility of Youth Allowance.  NUS has made some wins already in this area however the implementation of the Bradley Review has raised new problems for students.  [wins links to WINS page] Key issues:
  • Age of independence
  • Parental means test and taper rates
  • Narrowing of the workforce participation eligibility criteria
  • Personal income test
  • Masters by coursework coverage
  • Equity & merit scholarships Centrelink exemption
  • Relocation and Start-up Scholarships
  • Post-graduate scholarships
  • Level of Basic payments
 [Each a link to the following pages of the same name] To calculate your likely cost of living visit The Australian Scholarship Group education cost calculator. [The Australian Scholarship Group education cost calculator. Links to] To calculate if you are eligible for youth allowance under the current criteria visit the student income support estimator.  
[student income support estimator links to]
 Age of independence In 2009 NUS successfully lobbied to have the age of independence reduced incrementally over time WIN. The age of independence is when a student is assessed on personal income rather than parental income for income- support eligibility. It will be lowered to 24 on 2010, 23 in 2011 and 22 in 2012.  [WIN links to Win page] The measure falls short of NUS’s policy that independence should be lowered to 18 in line with most social and legal conventions about adulthood.  In our submissions to the Bradley Review we argued that there was policy merit in lowering the age of independence to at least 21, which would bring it in line with the independence criteria used for Newstart.   However, this current move by Labor does reverse the Howard Government’s budget cut in 1997 that increased the age of independence from 22 to 25.  This is an important reform that will enhance the policy coherence of income support arrangements and benefit thousands of students.  To lower the age of independence to 18 will require a concerted campaign by students across Australia to push for greater budgetary support to youth allowance. Get active.  
  Parental means test and taper rates In 2009, NUS successfully lobbied for an increase in the threshold of the Parental Income Test from $32,800 to $42,559, (WIN).  [WIN links to Win page] This is the single most important positive reform to student income support for 35 years.  When the Whitlam Government introduced the first comprehensive needs based student income support program (Tertiary Education Allowance Scheme) the parental income test threshold was set at the average weekly full-time earnings benchmark. In today’s dollars this would amount to about $60,700 (ABS, Nov 2008).   The erosion of this threshold to $32,800 (a 46% cut) speaks volumes about the impact of 35 years of budget cuts and policy neglect.  The current threshold was so low that it currently falls well short of even the government’s definition of s low SES family income let alone the average family income. This forced many low-income students to take gap years to qualify through the work-based independent criteria or to abandon any hope for a tertiary qualification.  This is a substantial measure that aligns the definition of low SES families with other government measures such as the Family Tax Benefit. While it doesn’t go anywhere near restoring the real value of the original TEAS parental threshold NUS welcomes such a positive measure.  We note that all post-Whitlam Governments, on both sides, have failed on this measure despite being in much stronger budget positions than in 2009.   New Parental Means Test Taper Rates The new DEEWR fact sheets released in July 2009 show the new more generous taper rates and parental income test cut-off points for Youth Allowance and ABSTUDY (ie, the maximum parental income until partial payments cease).  This will also be significant in determining eligibility for the Start Up Scholarships.  [DEEWR fact sheets links to] From 2010 the new taper rates will be aligned with Family Tax Benefit (i.e. 20 cents per student for each dollar over the $42,599 threshold.  Currently the taper rate is 25%.  This measure will cost the government an additional $559.9 million over the next four years. DEEWR has released the rates in some common family situations to highlight the changes.  Notably the new taper rates push the cut-off thresholds significantly above average full-time weekly earnings ($60K).  For example:  
Family Situation: no. of children on Youth AllowanceCurrent ArrangementsNew Arrangements
1 Child aged 18 at home$58,388$74,419
1 Child aged 18 away from home$71,532$90,974
2 children aged 18 and 20 at home$62,080$106,279
2 children 19 and 23 away from home$75,324$139,388
 To calculate your likely cost of living visit The Australian Scholarship Group education cost calculator. [The Australian Scholarship Group education cost calculator. Links to] To calculate if you are eligible for youth allowance under the current criteria visit the student income support estimator.  [student income support estimator links to]  Still not covered? Get Active in NUS to fight for a universal student allowance.  [universal student allowance links to Age of independence] 

  Narrowing of the workforce participation eligibility criteria  This was the big negative measure implemented in the 2009 Budget. It provided much of the revenue savings that would be used to offset the funding for the positive measures in this package.  According to the budget papers this measure alone will generate $1.819 billion of savings for the Commonwealth.  The Government implemented the Bradley Review Committee recommendation scrapping of two of the three workplace participation criteria for qualifying for independent rate of Youth Allowance (by working for at least 15 hours a week for 2 years or earning over $18K a year over an 18 month period).  The only criteria remaining would be to work for 30 hours a week for 18 months in a two-year period.    The Bradley Report and the government argue that the criteria are poorly targeted and are acting as an upper-middle class rort to circumvent the family means test. While they is doubtless some cases of rorting the reality is that the ‘gap year’ continues to be an important mechanism for low-middle income and rural families to access income support. Another issue was that roughly 30% of gappers would not return to study after taking a year of deferment.  A study of rural students attitudes to income support found that many rural students were bemused that metropolitan young people who have completed Workforce Participation eligibility can remain at home and receive the full Youth Allowance, while rural young people who are not financially Independent, yet live independently away from home, cannot receive Youth Allowance or only a very reduced payment if they have had to relocate more than 100 km.  This partly explains why there is much more community anger about this in rural areas.  To qualify for the full youth allowance under the parental income means test, parents have to have earned $18,000 below Average Weekly Earnings (AWE). NUS supports the implementation of a universal student income support that allows all students to go to university. The current government refuses to move from a position of ‘budget neutrality’ meaning that they are unwilling to increase the total amount of funding going to youth allowance.  [universal student income links to Age of Independence][parental income means test links to Parental means test and taper rates]  Another consideration in 2009 was the ‘grandfathering’ of the criterion. While students who had already qualified for independence through these mechanisms were able to maintain that status there was a cohort of between 10-30’000 students who finished in 2008 and were undergoing their gap year during 2009.  These students would have been caught between the old and new policies. Since the requisite time is 15 hours over 18 months many students would not have become eligible for the old youth allowance before the implementation date of 1st 2010 and would not have been eligible for the new youth allowance since this criteria had been removed. NUS successfully campaigned and lobbied for a 6-month push back of the date of implementation until July 1 2010 WIN. School students, gap year students and university students rallied around Australia and mobilized bipartisan support to force the back flip.  [WIN links to WIN page]  Unfortunately, to pay for this measure the government pushed back the implementation of the new personal income test threshold July 1st 2012, meaning thousands of students are being penalized because the government refuses to put more money into the youth allowance package, calling it a ‘budget neutral package’. NUS will continue to mount pressure on the government to immediately implement the PITT and a fair universal youth allowance. [personal income test  links to personal income test]  Join thousands of students from regional and metropolitan Australia to fight for a fair universal youth allowance.  
  Personal income test In 2009, NUS successfully lobbied for an increase in the Personal Income Test Threshold from $236 to $400 per fortnight WIN.  [WIN links to WIN page] This is the amount of employment or other income that students can earn before they have their income support reduced. The earnings threshold is annualized through a notional income bank.  The income bank model was introduced by the Keating Government in 1993. Unfortunately the threshold was not indexed.  This has been creating a poverty trap so that students were forced to live below the poverty line as their allowances were reduced as their paid work increased.    This welcome measure restores the personal income threshold to approximately its original real value.  It gives students greater flexibility to work out their own mix of study/paid work. The threshold will be indexed.    Originally slated for introduction in 2011, this measure was pushed back to July 1st 2012 to accommodate the increased cost bourn by the gap-year back flip.  Hundreds of thousands of students are deprived of an extra $160 a fortnight for 2 and a half years because the government made a blunder in their political and budgetary calculations! Not good enough. NUS is calling for the measure to be implemented immediately.  Get active to help make this a reality.  

  Masters by coursework coverage In 2009, NUS and CAPA successfully lobbied for all masters by coursework students to be eligible to apply for student income support, WIN.  [WIN links to Win page] Most students doing postgraduate by coursework (i.e. Masters) have not been eligible to apply for income support. This policy seems to be been based on the premise that all postgraduate by coursework students are professionals seeking to upgrade their qualifications for promotions and hence unworthy of public subsidy beyond the small subsidy implicit in the FEE-HELP loans for their full cost tuition fees. The logic of this view is that little social benefit flows from postgraduate coursework study, that it is almost entirely a private benefit.  The change in this view came in the 2007-08 Budget which extended the eligibility for student income support (Youth Allowance and Austudy) to students undertaking certain course-work masters degrees that are required for professional entry, are the only professional-entry courses offered by a university following restructure, or provide the fastest pathway to professional entry.  NUS argued to the Bradley Review that in light of the current imperatives to increase lifelong learning opportunities and mature age participation, that student income support eligibility should be extended to all postgraduate coursework students.   Many will continue to be excluded by their personal income levels and their tendency to be in part-time study. However, on social equity grounds a minority of financially needy full time students should be eligible to apply like other non-research students. An economic benefit that would flow from this is that these students will then be able to study full-time which would speed the re-skilling of the professional work-force.  This is a welcome measure that will increase equitable access to the fastest growing sector of the domestic student market.  For more information for postgraduates visit HOT CAPA BUTTON.  [HOT CAPA BUTTON links to]   Equity & merit scholarships Centrelink exemption In 2009, NUS successfully lobbied for Equity and merit based scholarships exempt from income testing for the purpose of Centrelink, WIN. [WIN links to WIN page]  From 2010 all university and philanthropic university scholarships below the value of Commonwealth Scholarships ($6,622) will not be counted as income by Centrelink.  This removes the long standing, and self-defeating, policy framework where students in receipt of university and philanthropic scholarships would have their Commonwealth student income support reduced.    This undermined the whole purpose of these scholarships as they were effectively acting in economic terms as a revenue saver for the Commonwealth rather than providing a net benefit to students.  NUS welcomes this long awaited victory for common sense. NUS will be consulting with Universities Australia to examine how many current university and philanthropic scholarships may exceed the cap and whether there may a need for subsequent adjustments.   
Contact your university to find out if you are eligible for a scholarship.
 Relocation and Start-up Scholarships In 2009, NUS successfully made the case for start-up scholarships after a concerted campaign for the $950 teaching and learning stimulus to help students with the huge costs associated with first year. NUS was also successful in increasing the number of students eligible for relocation scholarships, WIN. [WIN links to Win page]  Commonwealth Education Scholarship Scheme have been replaced by Student Start-Up Scholarships.      The Commonwealth Education Cost Scholarships (currently $2,207 per annum for up to 4 years) were a measure introduced by the Howard Government to help some disadvantaged students to meet the costs of study such as textbook and course materials.  The Rudd Government’s first budget doubled the number of scholarships.   The problem was that there was only a limited number of scholarships and that universities mainly relied on postcode data to allocate the scholarships. NUS argued that the scholarships should be available on a universal needs-basis and should be allocated taking into account a person’s circumstances  (there can be a lot of upper-middle class people in a low SES post-code).   This measure expands the new Student Start-Up Scholarships Scheme so that from 2010 all students in receipt of income support will receive the $2,504 (indexed) scholarships.   The budget papers omit the details about whether it is only for the first year (as implied by the name) or continues for up to the first four years of study as under the current arrangements. Students still face substantial new study costs beyond their first year (new textbooks and equipment). Commonwealth Accommodation Scholarships have been replaced with the Relocation Scholarships  The Commonwealth Accommodation Scheme was introduced by the Howard Government to support low SES students who needed to re-locate from a regional area in order to study.  The National Accommodation Scholarship Scheme was introduced by the Rudd Government last year to assist students who have to move more than 100 km from their home in order to study a specialist course.  Both schemes provide scholarships of up to around $4,400 for up to 4 years.  In this budget the government announced that it will be replacing the Commonwealth Accommodation Scheme with a Relocation Scholarship Scheme for Youth Allowance and ABSTUDY recipients who need to relocate to study. They will receive $4,000 in the first year and $1,000 in subsequent years. This reduces the current benefits received after the first year.    Both scholarships will be available to all students receiving  AUSTUDY, Youth Allowance and ABSUDY. This measure is the largest of the 2009 positive student income reforms with the Commonwealth spending $1.3 billion on this over the next four years.  146,600 students will receive benefits next year, increasing to 172,600  in 2013.  This is much more generous measure than we first thought and will significantly improve the financial position of eligible students compared to the poverty line.  NUS estimates that for a single student in a share house on the maximum Independent Away from Home rate of Youth Allowance their total Commonwealth support (base rate, Start up Scholarship and rent assistance) will increase from 52.5% of the Henderson poverty line to 62.7%.      NUS is a awaiting the release of scholarship guidelines for more detailed appraisal. Unfortunately the Coalition wants to halve these scholarships permanently in order to pay for a temporary change to the Workforce eligibility criteria. Get active to make sure they can’t.   
  Post-graduate scholarships  In 2009, NUS & CAPA successfully increased Commonwealth postgraduate scholarships by 30% WIN.  [WIN links to Win page] For example in 2008 terms this meant that the Australian Postgraduate Award for full  time students should be increased fro $20,007 to $26,009. The Bradley Review recommended that the APA scholarships be increased to $25,000.  The Government has gone for the welcome, but half way, measure of increasing the APA to $22,500 to increase the retention of research trained postgraduates needed given our rather ageing academic labour force.    This puts APA scholarship holders still only marginally above the poverty line and may end up doing little to enhance the attractiveness of a research career.  Further increases may be needed to achieve this goal. Join the fight with HOT CAPA BUTTON.  [HOT CAPA BUTTON links to]  Level of Basic payments The most glaring omission from this reform package is that it does not address the levels of payments of the basic allowances to non-research student.    NUS has been working to highlight the issue of student poverty for many years.   Below we outline the maximum benefits for students as a percentage of the Henderson poverty line.  The typical young single student (non first year) living in a share house will still be about 47% below the poverty line.  This forces them into excessively large amounts of paid work at the expense of their active participation in the academic and extra-curricular aspects of campus life.  The large rental increases over 2007-8 led to a significant worsening of student income compared to the poverty line.    Current single person rate per fortnight, head in workforce (i.e. includes allowance recipients as they are subject to work/study activity tests) for non-research non first year students as a percentage of Henderson poverty line  Note: Student allowances dropped in their real value by 2-3% over the last year compared to the Henderson Poverty line, probably reflecting the massive rent increases during 2008. The Dec 2008 Poverty line is after the financial crash but students would only get the benefit of lower rents if they move. Otherwise they are stuck with the inflated rent prices of the 2006-8 rent bubble. First year students will be eligible for the Student Start Up Scholarships.    In 2010 NUS will be mobilising student to campaign through the Henry Review to increase the level of Youth Allowance.   


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