Students with financial problems are three times more likely than other students to experience high levels of psychological distress and depression.
This finding was revealed in a recent study conducted by the University of Sydney's Brain and Mind Research Institute, in conjunction with the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, leading to calls from the Australian Law Students' Association (ALSA) for mental illness and financial relief to be put at the top of the higher education priority list.
The law students and practising lawyers who participated in the study showed higher levels of psychological distress and a greater risk of depression, compared with Australian community norms and other tertiary student groups. In addition, when compared with medical students, law students reported higher perceived stress scores, particularly with regard to academic, time, fear of failure, classroom and economic stress.
According to ALSA, a correlation has arisen between increased access to law degrees for students who previously would not have been accepted into such courses, and low retention. The attrition rate, said ALSA, is partly due to a lack of access to support services being offered to students to nurture their mental health.
"The Gillard Government is forthcoming with creating a place for every prospective student in university, but the evidence against such a proposal seems to be mounting," said ALSA vice-president (education) Aimee Riley.
"When applied to a law-specific context, ALSA is not supportive of this policy. It is suggested 'unlimited' access actually undermines the quality of a law degree as standards of entry are lowered ... Internationally competitive standards depend on two things, namely increased funding and a dynamic curriculum for law."
ALSA says the financial burdens shouldered by law students and government have been grossly disproportionate and are having a detrimental effect upon law schools and the legal profession.
"It is no longer the case that the wage of a graduate law student is inflated in comparison to other professions, with legal graduates ranked 11th on the 2010 graduate salary tables," said Riley.
"It is also not acceptable that law students continue to pay much higher contributions for much less innovation than seen in other degrees. What is required is [for the] Government to relieve the adverse financial pressures law students face and increase student support services."