I remember the relief of getting into a course at uni. I even got a small scholarship, to ‘help focus on my education’. Apparently some educators thought financial stress would be a distraction to my studies, idiots.
Fortunate enough to have a vague idea of what I wanted to do with my life, I moved to the exciting hub that is the Nation’s Capital to study at the Australian National University. For a Commerce student, more prestigious institutions meant more opportunity. Allegedly. In retrospect I think that might have been good sales bullshit sold to parents and prospective students.
Moving away from home will teach you to be an adult, I was told. Be independent, learn to appreciate what I have at home, what my parents did for me, grow right the heck up.
What my parents had done for me was own a home that had appreciated above the asset maximum for their eldest daughter to claim Youth Allowance. Selfish assholes. Despite having worked full time hours for six months, my part time contract at my previous employer would mean that for the entirety of my studies I couldn’t prove that I supported myself. But I did and would have to.
To pay the rent, buy food and necessities (actual necessities before you ask) and cover immediate bills like I needed to work 19 hours a week. On top of the 40 hours I was told I should commit to my studies, which honestly was more like 30, it was doable. Then you add things like textbooks, running a car, an increase in the annual parking fees for ANU, sports registration, a laptop that needs a replacement logic board and even before you want to go out to Moosehead’s for $2 shots you’re looking at 26–30 hours a week to pay your way.
Living like that is entirely shit. So let me deglamourise this student life Politicians think is exorbitant enough to pay for smashed avo on toast or a latte.
I became good at pub trivia to win a decent meal. Do you know you can find recipes as cheap as 74c a serve online? Do you know eating pure carbs isn’t healthy? To solve this dilemma of having a $50 food budget a week I became good at pub trivia. Where my team of uni students would trade first prize for second or third, the desired bar tab to cover $10 steaks for the table. This was our only hope of having fresh vegetable that week.
I ended up in hospital. Twice. The first time my options were to pay half a weeks rent to visit a doctor without bulk billing or wait the week to get into the student medical centre. Instead I lasted three days before catching a cab to the ER. The second time the student medical center, running over an hour behind, decided in under five minutes it was just back pain and not a raging kidney infection, prescribed me Panadeine Forte and sent me home.
I realised how lucky I was to not be a casual employee. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been part time since I was a sixteen year old Bunnings team member. Most of my uni mates were casuals. When I spent a couple of weeks doped up and unable to eat or move without pain (see above), I got paid! I could cover rent! I felt pressure to get better before this bank ran out but I can not emphasise how rare this was amongst my friends. Two years later, my housemate broke his hand, had a golden staff infection in the hospital and had to move back to the country town he was from because his parents didn’t have the disposable income to cover his rent for the roughly eight weeks he couldn’t work.
Living in a residence hall was the best experience of my life. But rumors and discussions around raising prices was a real concern for a lot of people. If subsidised on campus accommodation became too expensive, every other option was so horrific I would have moved home. Think I’m being precious? If you’re curious have a look at the costs of sharing a bedroom with 1–4 other people on flatmates.com.au. It’s not cheap, and selling points often include only one other person in the room, or that a single bed mattress is included.
Sunday penalty rates meant I could work four hours less during the week. For a lot of people, this was one less shift. Which is enough to cover attending a lecture, or meeting with your assigned group to try and smash out an assignment. Public holidays, I never turned down. They meant that I could take an extra day or two off during exam time, or gave me enough breathing room that I would proactively pay bills I knew I would be hit with so I didn’t have to stress about them arriving.
For the last year of my degree I worked full time while studying full time. This was stupid. I was sleep deprived by the end of it, I dropped to a credit average, and it was certainly not sustainable. Living in an actual apartment, not having to wear flip-flops in the shower and being able to buy fresh broccoli was worth it.
This article is not a whinge, or a tale of woe. My memories of this time would closely resemble something you’ve seen in an American College films (although I couldn’t afford the bottle of Jack Daniel’s to have drunk as much as Jim Belushi). I learned a lot about business-y things and about life and about managing myself so as remain somewhere between the extremes of destitute, leisurely and strung out. I made friends to last a lifetime. I would recommend my experience in a heartbeat, with no hesitation for the gap year, aversion to Coles brand noodles, or the lack of savings at the end of it.
So please. When considering changes to university fees or repayments, ignore for a minute the perpetuated image of the entitled millennial. Those impacted by the changes won’t be the one’s you see talking loudly and adding a side of organic maple-smoked bacon to their smashed avo on Quinoa bread. That’s me now. Finally, able to live in a place where I have my own bathroom and enjoy pub trivia without the pressure of needing a serve of vegetables to survive. I’ll be still paying off HELP debt for another decade because I decided to do an MBA, I’ll continue going out for breakfast because even if we go for the premium option it’s cheaper than a main meal and red wine for dinner. Smash me with HELP repayment hikes and they’ll still be first world problems.
Hitting students with the additional burden while studying, that’s a different story.
Amy decided she wanted to be Batgirl at age five. It hasn't really panned out, and now she is a tech geek by day helping businesses and government agencies deliver better experiences to their stakeholders. After hours she's a sport fanatic, music lover and part time MBA student.
. This site is a just a collection of the stuff that she does as a result of being a bit weird. It's occasionally updated so her mother knows she's alive.