JULIANA RYAN and NADINE ZACHARIAS

With Australian universities facing significant financial challenges and loss of international student enrolments, keeping domestic students at university is critical. Students from under-represented equity groups, such as Indigenous students and those from low socioeconomic status backgrounds, are most likely to experience financial stress while studying and are more likely to drop out. Providing income support to the most disadvantaged domestic students, so they can stay at university, is money well spent. Our research with colleagues from three very different Australian universities shows that nesting targeted income support with other student supports is consistently effective in retaining students from equity groups, including those with the highest need.

Even a small amount of financial support can keep equity students at university by providing psychosocial and practical benefits for recipients. These include buying time to focus on study and being able to cover essentials such as child care or a computer. Money spent on income support for equity students makes a demonstrable difference to retention and, in many cases, success.

However, administering equity scholarships is administratively burdensome on universities. The Commonwealth Government, through Centrelink, should continue to provide income support to disadvantaged university students to mitigate against COVID-19 financial impacts as it did with the Coronavirus supplement for students receiving Austudy and Youth Allowance. The eligibility criteria for these support payments should be reviewed to benefit more students in need.

Nested with university supports, financial support provided by the Commonwealth could enable students with even the most complex circumstances to stay at university, promoting social equity and contributing to national productivity when they graduate.

Dr Juliana Ryan, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University juliana.ryan@rmit.edu.au

A/Prof Nadine Zacharias, Director, Student Engagement, Swinburne University of Technology nzacharias@swin.edu.au


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