Cash boost to help struggling Aussies

Education Minister Jason Clare is helping Labor sharpen its pitch to younger voters ahead of the federal budget. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Swift

Nursing, teaching, midwifery and social work students will be eligible for a $320 a week payment in a bid to ease the burden of unpaid placements.

A day after revealing it will wipe $3bn worth of student debts, Labor on Monday revealed its plan to tackle “placement poverty” as it sharpens its re-election pitch to younger voters.

The payment, which will be benchmarked to the single Austudy per week rate, is expected to help about 68,000 university students and 5000 VET students annually.

Education Minister Jason Clare said it would help students who are struggling to pay the bills to be able to finish their courses.

“Placement poverty is a real thing,” Mr Clare told ABC Radio.

AUSTRALIA - NewsWire Photos - General view editorial generic stock photo of Australian cash money currency. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Nicholas Eagar
The prac payment will be paid to students undertaking unpaid placements. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Nicholas Eagar

“We’ve got lots of people, whether they’re teaching students or nursing students, telling me they can afford to do the degree … but they can’t afford to do the prac,” he said.

“This will provide that bit of extra help to pay the bills, put food on the table, pay for transport, sometimes the relocation costs that come with practice.”

But the scheme won’t start until July 1 next year and not all students will be eligible. It will be means-tested and paid in addition to any income support the student may already receive.

Mr Clare said the test could consider whether students were living at home or independently or working more than 15 hours a week.

“This is the first time that this has happened. It’s happened in response to calls from students both teaching students and nursing students and social work students across the country,” he said.

Jason Clare says it will help students finish their courses. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Swift

The Universities Accord, the first broad review of the higher education system since 2008, released its final report in February. Financial support for students undergoing placements was a key recommendation from the review.

National Union of Students president Ngaire Bogemann described the scheme as a “massive win” for uni students.

“I’ve heard horror stories of nursing students, of students doing placements having to live in their cars while they’re undertaking full-time unpaid work. This is just relief for students,” she told the ABC.

The review also recommended an overhaul to how student debt is calculated and when it is deducted.

On Sunday, Labor announced it would cap student loan indexation to the lower of the consumer price index or the wage price index after students were slugged with a 6.1 per cent indexation rise in 2023.

The changes, which require legislation, will be backdated to June 1 last year and are estimated to save the average graduate $1200 on their total debt.

A total of $3bn will be wiped off the debts of more than 3 million Australians with HECS debts.

Mr Clare flagged further reforms to the higher education system would be revealed on budget night.

“What you will see more of on budget night is the cost of kids missing out on going to university in the first place,” he said.