How University aid assists struggling students to make ends meet

14 June 2024
Prioritising student’s futures
Ever wonder where your donations go? As Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Student Life, Professor Susanna Scarparo ensures the University is there for students in need.
Professor Susanna Scarparo talking to a colleague

Professor Susanna Scarparo is committed to supporting students' needs while pursuing their university ambitions.

The rising cost of living is hitting many households hard. Rate rises leading to steep rental increases and the growing cost of essentials like groceries, utilities and fuel are all adding pressure to most people’s daily lives.

This pressure is reaching boiling point for many university students. When the growing cost of everyday expenses is teamed with the pressure of managing full-time study and paid work it starts to paint a worrying picture of life for some of our most vulnerable students.

For the increasing number of students who are supporting themselves through university without a safety net, these financial hurdles can become impassible barriers.

Increasing Demand for Emergency Payments

It pains me to share that despite their best efforts working multiple jobs, tapping into savings and keeping lean budgets, students are increasingly reaching out for emergency financial help.

In 2023 we received 1,000 applications for emergency financial support.

We’ve already reached 1,000 this year. That’s more than eight applications coming across our desks every day, and I don’t anticipate the demand slowing down any time soon.

We have made sweeping changes in the way Student Life at the University operates.

A student reaching out today won’t go onto a long waiting list. They will talk to a real person within 48 hours and start the process of getting the right support immediately. This change in process has driven a jump in referrals from within the University. The evidence is clear, more students are struggling and in desperate need of our help.

Current student struggles

Each day, we hear from students facing make-or-break financial stresses, through no fault of their own. We have everything from a student needing to replace a laptop charger because their housemate’s cat chewed the wires, to students in immediate need of emergency accommodation.

We have students living in unsafe housing because of domestic violence and others juggling paid work and study while caring for children or unwell loved ones.

And we are increasingly hearing from students struggling financially as a direct result of physical or mental illness.

The three most common reasons students are reaching out right now are physical or mental health impacting finances, placement expenses and reduction in work hours.

The Student Life team ensures that every student, regardless of their circumstances, feels a sense of belonging.

Tailored support available to students

Student safety and wellbeing is our highest priority. We are committed to doing all we can to make sure our students, no matter their circumstances, have the support they need while pursuing their university ambitions.

The direct needs of students are simple and practical. They need a roof over their head. They need enough food to get by. They need to be able to get to uni and get home again. They need basic equipment like a computer and electricity.

What often follows a conversation between a member of my team and a student is pure relief and joy. I was particularly moved by this note from a student who had received a bursary:

“I’m extremely grateful for the donations, as without bursaries in my final semester, in particular, I would have been forced to drop out and seek full time employment due to financial constraints and rising rents. I was able to finish my degree and apply for honours thanks to donors.”

Each time a heartfelt message from a grateful student comes across our desks, it spurs us all on to continue delivering what we can to students in need. Something as simple as a food voucher or some extra cash in the bank can give a student a reason to keep pursuing their education.

Most of all, financial assistance tells our most vulnerable students that they belong here.

They shouldn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed for needing this type of support. Being able to access help when they need it reminds students that they have a place the University of Sydney, just as much as anyone.

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