The Student Finances Survey, which took in responses from over 18,500 university students, found one in six international students regularly skipped classes for work, while almost double that figure (30%) reported being adversely affected in their studies due to work commitments.
“Food is the expense I can cut down easily, compared to public transport or textbooks”
“International students face a range of challenges that can be made more acute by the fact that they are far from home,” UA chief executive Catriona Jackson said.
“But international students can also access the full range of comprehensive and targeted support services available to all university students, including housing, counselling, health and other programs. These services help international students settle into Australia, as well as set them up for success in their studies and ensure their safety and wellbeing.”
Looking at the financial capacity of university students in Australia, the survey also found both domestic and international students had roughly comparable rates of forgoing meals, with one in seven students indicating they skipped meals to make ends meet.
“The cost of all associated living costs far outweighs the money earned”
“To study I actually have limited myself a lot, in terms of living standard, since I [rely] on my family’s support,” said one international undergraduate student in the survey.
“I am worried about my diet because I’ve been eating poorly. However, that’s the only expense I can cut down flexibly and easily, compared to public transport or textbook costs,” they added.
While the numbers of international students skipping class or being affected by work are fewer than domestic, they were the only demographic to increase in this metric from the last survey in 2012
ISANA president Bronwyn Gilson warned that while choosing work over study might be a stopgap in the short-term, the long-term costs could add up.
“If students miss class and fall behind, they could fail one or more of their units of study,” she said.
“The cost to repeat and all associated living costs far outweighs the money earned.”
“Many international students are not able to see doctors for medical reasons”
Speaking with The PIE News, Gilson expanded, saying this was potentially a symptom of inflexible employers. She also said it was difficult to conclude this indicated large numbers of international students were coming to Australia without the means to support themselves.
“It is far more likely that the students have not fully investigated the real costs of living in Australia,” she said, citing issues such as driving fines and medical expenses which often overwhelmed international students. This point was corroborated by a postgrad survey respondent.
“Many international students are not able to see doctors, let alone to seek out care for mental health problems that may arise because of these challenges,” they wrote.
“I am worried about my diet because I’ve been eating poorly”
The survey found the median wage for international students to be below living costs, however, it also noted they were far more likely to have financial support from their family than domestic students.
Of note, international students had a median 15 hours of paid work per week, well below the allowed 40 hours per fortnight, counter to concerns within Australia that students were overworking and driving down wages and working conditions.
A rally to extend student public transport concessions to international students in New South Wales took place in mid-August, supported by the Council of International Students Australia.