By Lucy Andrews
On Tuesday last week, the Swinburne University team brought a reform to Youth Parliament asking for the introduction of concession cards and fuel vouchers for full-time higher education and international students.
They also outlined the establishment of a Student Affordability Commission to oversee the implementation of the Bill and address student affordability issues in the future.
According to Honourable Member Tapat, “It’s about Victorian’s commitment to diversity and fairness”.
“Why does a post graduate student have to pay a full fare while an undergraduate student doesn’t?”
Mr Tapat questioned the Victorian governments commitment to being ‘The Education State’, which is the catchphrase for Victorian license plates. Mr Tapat believes that the current financial system for education is “disgusting”.
Honourable Member Mai went on to note that, “This Bill was produced for a reason”.
“The government is trying to implement an Act to make public transport more affordable for all students.”
Ms Mai stated that 1 in 6 full time post graduate students has an income of less than $10,000. “Some students spend 30-40 hours a week studying. We don’t get paid for it, but we pay for education, of course.”
Mr Tapat called for action from the chambers, claiming that, “The system is broken, and the ones who have broken it can also fix it.”
However, the opposition was resistant to pass the Bill due to the $10 petrol vouchers assigned to students. The opposition claimed that $10 a day was too much to give to every student to travel to class, seeing as the Bill did not specify the distance required for a petrol voucher to be given.
As Honourable Member Chatrary stated, “regardless of how high or low petrol prices are”, $10 a day will be given to a student irrespective of how far away they live. They will also be given to a student “whose car runs on diesel or considerably cheaper petrol.”
Honourable Member Mantikas highlighted the possibility that in this way, the Bill does not reach those it intends to reach. “The entire bill fails to help students in need. This bill helps students who are rich and do not need it.”
The opposition also outlined the schemes already in place for international and post-graduate students. Honourable Member Cornelius reminded the government of the iUse pass, which can give concession rates to international undergraduate students.
Honourable Member Poole also noted that cards such as the ‘low income card’ are available to post-graduate students who are struggling with their financial situation.
However, Honourable Member Mugisha noted that there are programs in other states to support cheaper living costs for international and post graduate students, and these may be drawing international students away from Victorian Universities.
The government was adamant that the restriction of concession cards for international and post-graduate students is imbalanced and unfair.
Honourable Member Easton emphasised the difficulties some students face. She noted many students struggle to find time to work whilst studying full time. “Paying for even the essentials becomes a struggle.”
For international student and Honourable Member Gamage, the issue is close to home. He stressed that international students are just as deserving of a concession card as domestic students, especially considering the higher fees international students are required to pay to study in Victoria.
“1 in 4 students in Australia are international students. We are all chasing our dreams for a successful future.”
Honourable Member Tapat appealed to members who were university students for support for the Bill. “I need help, we need help. I want to go to university and I want to take the train.
“It’s time for students to raise their voices and say yes to eligibility.”
The Bill passed through Youth Parliament, and will now be sent to the relevant minister.