This is a background feature I wrote for a university assignment during my second year of study. The information was gathered on May 8, 2013, and the original story was published in the Brisbane Times the same day (http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/opinion/political-news/uni-reform-to-hurt-students-20130507-2j62q.html).
IN MANY ways, the life of a university student is more stressful today than it has ever been in the past, and experts are worried the increasing pressures mounting on young people are affecting their mental health.
With government funding cuts to universities just around the corner and the continuing pressures on students to find employment to make ends meet, students must learn how to strike the right balance between their studies and a social life.
CEO of Beyondblue Kate Carnell said university students were being pulled between the need to work and survive and the necessity of a social life.
“For lots of uni students, it produces an anxiety and even depression in certain circumstances,” Ms Carnell said.
“Fundamentally, you need to be able to manage your life to be able to keep an equilibrium.”
The concerns came after a Universities Australia survey found 80 per cent of full-time undergraduates had to find employment to support themselves through their degree, with students working an average 16 hours per week while also balancing their studies.
The majority of students surveyed said their employment affected their study performance, with a third saying they regularly skipped classes in order to work.
Ms Carnell said many university students feel they do not have a choice in the matter and need to work to support themselves.
“They’re not just working so they can go out and party on Saturday night,” Ms Carnell said.
“They’re working to live, to pay the rent, along with an often quite significant university workload.
“There’s so many more young people at university now, and I think as more and more young people are given an opportunity to go to university, their families are not in a position to support them.”
But former registrar for Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Brian Waters said students still had to deal with pressures back when he held the position from 1976 to 1995.
“I think in many ways it was more difficult in those days than what it is now because of the number of lecture hours people had to attend compulsorily, rather than how it seems to be these days where the number of formal lecture hours doesn’t seem to be as much,” Mr Waters said.
“Students also have the ability to watch lectures online and do those sorts of things rather than have it so structured and on a particular campus.
“That gives people a bit more of a chance to get some part-time employment.”
Mr Waters said the pressures placed on students were certainly evident during his time as registrar.
“We had a counselling unit, and certainly they had a number of people who were very stressed out and needed advice on how to order their days and weeks to accommodate their studies and their need to earn money,” he said.
But Mr Waters acknowledged that students faced added pressures today, mentioning the HECS contributions scheme, which was introduced during his post as registrar.
“That put an impost onto students or their parents,” Mr Waters said.
“It meant a difficult time for some of them in terms of having to pay those debts off, which is even more reason why they need to get income as early as they can.”
Mr Waters said students had to deal with more financial burdens today because more were living out of home.
“There’s much more rental accommodation that has become available for students that they can afford at a pinch, but that of course keeps the pressure on them to earn money to live in that way,” Mr Waters said.
Ms Carnell said while a lot of university students were employed when she studied, most students also lived at home.
“We weren’t in a position to have to actually support ourselves and pay the rent,” Ms Carnell said.
“More people are getting to go to uni, and that’s really good.
“But the down side is that a lot of those people are doing so without family support and are having to literally support themselves through university.”
Such pressures have led to the formation of websites like The Desk (www.thedesk.org.au), which Ms Carnell said was put together with research from QUT and the University of Queensland and funded by Beyondblue.
“It’s a site that helps and supports university students with resilience and managing their mental health,” Ms Carnell said.
She said the site was an example of how students could find help online to improve their wellbeing and study more effectively.
“What we’ve got to make sure we do is support young people at university to get that work-life balance right.”