Hand-to-mouth existence harsh fact of student life

Otago University Students' Association president Harriet Geoghegan inspects the association's foodbank cupboard. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Otago University Students' Association president Harriet Geoghegan inspects the association's foodbank cupboard. Photo by Craig Baxter.
The economic recession has been over officially for a year but Dunedin tertiary students are yet to benefit. Part-time work is still difficult to find and more students than ever are seeking emergency financial support. Tertiary education reporter Allison Rudd investigates.

Think of the cost of essential day-to-day living for a typical Dunedin tertiary student - accommodation, food, electricity, transport and personal items such as clothing, shampoo and soap. Add in spending on the occasional visit to the doctor or dentist, evening out, birthday present or trip home for the many Dunedin students whose families live elsewhere.

Then try doing all that on $160-$200 a week.

With a room in a standard student flat costing between $85 and $130 a week, there is not much left over for the rest, student leaders say.

Unexpected bills or financial problems, such as high winter electricity bills, urgent travel or getting sick and being unable to work, can easily plunge students into financial desperation.

Both the Otago University Students Association (OUSA) and the Otago Polytechnic Students Association (OPSA) offer foodbank assistance and hardship grants or loans and have seen a sharp increase in the number of students seeking help over the past year.

That was not surprising, OUSA president Harriet Geoghegan and her OPSA counterpart Meegan Cloughley said.

Most students managed from week to week using a combination of student allowances or student loans, overdrafts, loans and gifts from family and income from part-time work.

But work opportunities dried up quickly in late 2008 when the recession started to bite and despite the recession being officially over, jobs were still difficult to secure.

Those unable to find work were living on about $160 a week (although some students are eligible for an accommodation supplement) - less than the $185 a week unemployment benefit paid to a young single person, the women said.

Studylink, the Government organisation which administers student loans and allowances, was also slower than usual to begin students' payments this year, Ms Cloughley said.

Oh, come on

There's over 25,000 students in Dunedin and in reality it is only a small minority of that 25,000 that you see in the Octagon on a Friday and Saturday night on any one weekend.

It's not like all students go out every weekend. You simply can't go out every weekend if you're living $150 a week.
Some students have work (or are blessed with well-off parents), and of those that do go out frequently usually are in this circumstance.

But most students simply can not afford to be drinking in the Octagon, or anywhere else for that matter, every weekend as you seem to be suggesting they can all afford to do.

Sure, the student population does have a higher proportion of people who socialise with alcohol and they are ,as a generalisation, more likely to do it to excess (all groupings of young people do).

But that does not mean that you can claim all students are well-off based on the observations of a minority, or of occasional behaviour.

And to answer your question as to the "how", it is common practice for students to consume cheap supermarket-bought alcohol before heading out to drink, dramatically minimising the money spent.

I dont understand

I agree, DunnerRunner.  All you have to do is look at Facebook to see the photos of students with beer, spirits etc. in their hands.

I don't understand...

If the students are so poor, how come so many have money to spend getting drunk in the Octagon on a Friday and Saturday night? I can't afford to do that and I have a well paying job and a comfortable lifestyle.