On-campus rent increases every year, grocery prices keep going up, and the price of a standard mixed drink at Badger has increased by 20% since last year. One ex-Melbourne University student claimed that due to cost of living pressures, she was forced to choose between “getting an education and putting food on the table” and subsequently withdrew from university. Students are bearing the brunt of inflation, and their lives at ANU and in Canberra are getting more expensive, but there remains little evidence to prove our wages are increasing at the same rate. Is it still possible to attend ANU, eat decently, pay rent, and live off the average university student’s income? Woroni investigates.
The median rental rate in Canberra is the highest of any city in Australia at $670 per week . Given 3-bedroom homes are the most common type of property in Canberra, rent per person for an off-campus property is around $223 per week. Although, if you wanted to live in a 3-bedroom property in a suburb like Turner, which neighbours ANU, the number is closer to $296 per person. This is assuming you want to live in a ‘share house’, if you wanted to live alone rent is closer to $500 per week.
If you live on campus the average rent across all catered residential halls/colleges is $492.2 per week for 44-48 weeks. The average for self-catered accommodation is $316.9. The cost of rent at each residence has increased every year making accommodation on campus increasingly inaccessible.
According to the National Union of Students, the average income of full-time undergraduate students across Australia is $18,300 per annum or $352 a week.
Given this income, you could not pay to live at any catered accommodation or Yukembruk. You could live at Fenner or Wamburun with $22 to spare and Unilodge with approximately $35 left over. Burton and Garran Hall is the only realistic option with $92 to cover textbooks, transport, phone bills and any other costs. Off-campus accommodation is harder to assess, but you would be left with approximately $0-$129 to cover other expenses.
The average cost of groceries for one person per week is $104. According to the ANU, groceries/food will set you back $110-$181. For anyone living on-campus in self-catered accommodation, this would push them either into debt, or force them to spend their savings.
If you are eating the cheapest meal at Badger & Co (their $15 range: calamari, nachos, veggie or chicken pasta, cheeseburger, fried chicken burger or any salad) for lunch and dinner and a Maccas egg and bacon McMuffin for breakfast every day your food cost for the week would be $247.45. Add in one iced latte from Coffee Lab every day and you are down another $42.
If you were to buy $2 ramen for every lunch and dinner with only a cappuccino for breakfast (Woroni does not encourage this diet) with one brunch and one cheap badger dinner throughout the week your total would be around $105, which is still over the disposable income of the average full-time university student after rent.
For students who drive as their main form of transport, the cost of car ownership is expensive. A resident or student parking permit will set you back around $10 a week. On average across Australia 18-24 year-olds pay approximately $33 for petrol every week, $35 on insurance and registration in the ACT is $1140 or around $24 per week. This makes the cost of using your car as transport around $102 a week, excluding the cost of services, cleaning and any parking fines.
Public transport in Australia on average costs $24 a week.
ANU estimates students should pay $1320 or approximately $25 a week on textbooks yearly. This is in line with other estimates.
Healthcare costs are difficult to calculate as some people may require extensive specialist care and others require nothing. The average Australian goes to a GP around 6 times a year. Whilst GP appointments can be bulk-billed (free) these are becoming harder to access as Australia is in a GP shortage crisis. The average cost of a GP appointment in Canberra after the Medicare rebate is applied is $48.92. If a student sees a GP 6 times a year at this cost they will be paying $274 a year or approximately $5.25 per week.
Extra costs may add to this, for example, 81 percent of Australian females use birth control. The pill, which is the most popular form of birth control in Australia, costs $10-$30 a month if listed on the PBS, but for more specialist pills the cost can be upwards of $90 a month.
Most laundry on campus is “pay as you go” with $3 for a wash and $3 for a dry. If you are doing your laundry weekly the cost is $6 a week. However, Burton and Garran, Ursula, Johns XXIII and Burgmann have free laundry.
Students off and on campus alike need to pay their phone bill. The average price of a phone bill in the ACT is $28 a month or $7 per week.
Those living off-campus also have to pay for electricity, gas, water, heating and internet. This is estimated to cost $230 per month or $57.5 a week for someone in a one-bedroom apartment and $70 per month or $17.5 per week for internet. When dividing this between members of a ‘sharehouse’ the cost is reduced and in some cases, landlords will include some of these expenses in the cost of rent.
It’s Not Looking Good
A car-driving BnG student who actually buys textbooks, never eats out, and pays for PBS-covered birth control, when earning the average income of a uni student will be approximately $158.25 in debt at the end of one week.
Take an off-campus student, living in Turner, who does not buy textbooks, eats out once a week, covers a third of the cost of utilities, and uses public transport daily with no medical costs. They will be around $118.8 in debt at the end of each week.
Someone living at Bruce Hall, who only ever eats at Bruce, who drives, does not buy textbooks, who attends only the GP and does their laundry weekly will be $268.25 in debt.
You get the idea.
This is without the cost of clothes, furniture and household supplies, haircuts, entertainment, emergencies, and denying any form of savings.
It seems impossible to live off $352 a week and attend ANU. However, ANU has the lowest low-SES enrollment of any Group of Eight University, at 3.5% in 2021. It is highly likely that many students at ANU benefit from parental support. However, some students do not and as costs increase the barrier for low-SES students will only become larger.
Whilst there are programs like ‘Youth Allowance’ to supplement student income and some scholarships, there are flaws in these programs. Youth allowance is capped at $281.4 weekly (unless you have children), which is not nearly enough to cover living expenses. Additionally, Economics Professor Bruce Chapman explained that “in periods where prices are going high the adjustment on student income support is quite slow”. Furthermore, many ANU scholarships are not means tested, meaning students who could potentially afford to come to ANU without assistance are often given places over those who are in need of a scholarship.
Professor Chapman proposed the idea of allowing some student costs like textbooks, and potentially rent, to be included in the HECS program to “make life a bit easier for all students.” Students on Youth Allowance, Austudy and ABSTUDY can currently do this, but it is not available for all students on HECS-HELP Chapman also added that the upcoming University Accords will answer questions related to student income support and will potentially provide recommendations for a reformed system.
Regardless of inflation and cost of living pressures, being a full-time student with limited capacity for paid work makes living comfortably away from parents incredibly difficult at any point in time. As one ANU student put it: “it’s a bit ridiculous, isn’t it”.
Editor’s Note: The costs in this article are approximate and estimations, they will not capture every university student’s financial experience.
If you are struggling with finances, please see these resources:
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