The Rudd Government's changes to the eligibility criteria for students to receive support while studying has been labeled as unfair by the Australian Law Students' Association (ALSA) President Jonathan Augustus.
The Rudd Government has agreed to delay the proposed changes so those people on a gap year in 2009 are not disadvantaged and are able to qualify for independent student support by earning $20,000 in that year.
However, in six months the test will require students to work 30 hours a week for 18 months to be eligible for study support.
Augustus told Lawyer2b that the new criteria is problematic and that the old system provided better opportunities for students to juggle work and study commitments.
"Your freedom to choose when you want to start university has pretty much been taken away," he said.
"For students now, who don't qualify for Youth Allowance, they are effectively required to postpone their university studies for at least 18 months so they can work full-time and receive [the independent] student allowance. So it's removing that freedom of starting university immediately - so the current year 12 students are going to be at heavy disadvantage."
The changes will also heavily impact on rural and regional individuals, Augustus said.
"It just makes it so much harder to move to a metropolitan area and attend university. The requirement of working almost forces you to have to take time off to obtain this 30-hour-per-week level or minimum bar to qualify," he said.
ALSA welcomed the change to the amount students can earn before their support payments are docked - increased from $236 to $400 a fortnight. However, Augustus said the Government's news that those changes will not now be introduced until 2012 was disappointing.
"Overall the Youth Allowance system is just becoming quite confusing for students and it puts you in a position where you aren't sure whether you are going to be able to qualify or not," he said.
Augustus said that for students who have to work and study, there can be a detrimental effect on marks -which are crucial in the competition for clerkships and graduate recruitment.
"If you're a student who has to work or chooses to try and squeeze 30 hours in during [study] - if they want to start university immediately - you are just not going to have that right balance of time to put towards your study because of the work demands that are on you," he said.
"Alternatively, if you take the gap year or the 18 months or two years, that is quite a substantial gap between when you finish your high school and when you actually start tertiary. It's not uncommon for students to take a gap year and not come back or not start - and that [criteria change] is just extending that possibility longer."
- Sarah Sharples