Student Debt Reshaping University Academics in Australia

Student Debt Reshaping University Academics in Australia


This research report seeks to explore and explain a study carried out at the University of Australia. The study describes why large populations of students in universities have resulted to paid work. They relay on paid work as a source of livelihood. The paper will also analyse the research findings of emerging issues that have been of great challenge to Australian universities.  The report will also discuss the combinations of significant learning at the university lecture rooms and other forms of life aspirations. Respondents exposed a considerable capacity to incorporate competing life demands. Whereas students described instrumental pragmatic and practices approaches to assessment and reading demands, their comments exposed a considerable desire for a deeper learning.


There have been debates in most institutions of higher learning in Australia concerning various issues that affects academics. Some areas of concern include availability of resources, the ratio of students and staff and inequality in service distribution.  However, the major issue that has become more critical in the recent past is the way student’s employment patterns are reshaping the experiences at the university for both academic teachers and students learners. There has been a growing concern that the traditional patterns of student commitment in higher institutions are being changed by student employment and student debt. The earlier trend where students concentrated in academics alone is no longer sustainable (Australian Council of Social Service 2003).

 Many countries are experiencing the mix of ‘earner-learner’ and ‘learner-earner’. These changes in student’s cohorts have been attributed to student’s capacity to finish their studies successfully and engage in learning and negotiating various demands. Various researches from Canada, Australia and the United States have given a clear indication of this trend. The diversity of university student employment patterns has made the development of effective administrative and teaching practices a big challenge to most universities (Curtis 2002). This paper look out for contributions to knowledge about students experiences and expectations, clarify some aspects of work/ study/ care life balance and include qualitative insights to students satisfaction data.

The research project that provided these findings emphasised on the main challenges that undergraduate student face while they strive hard to complete their academics successfully. It is evident that many students are committed to paid work, life issues and family responsibilities. Most students combine both paid work and full-time enrolment in school to survive in harsh economic times.


The setting of the project was carried out in the University of Australia. The focus groups were preferred as data collection methods because they presented more deep insights and covers substantial issues in a wide range. (Hamel 2001) asserted that focus groups allow discussion on topics in question and analysis which arise from the gathering of the viewpoint of participants. The research team obtained an ethical approval from the university ethical committee and informed permission was obtained from both focus group participants. A number of 48 students were assigned in twelve focus groups from the university. 

The participants were aged 18-60 years with those aged between 18-24 years representing 28 participants. A high number of students said that they come from university designated groups, 20 of them showed that they were the first to attend University in their families, three come from rural areas of Australia. Four in the group identified themselves as those students who were having long term problems in their families (Curtis 2002). Nine participants registered as those that have not been able to attend school for a certain period of time, two students had disabilities and seven of them come from backgrounds that were non-English speaking. There were no foreign students who were involved in the research. Students managed to display many equity groups as they wished.


The research findings focussed on the relationships between paid employment, social life and studies. The research was also aimed at finding how students were able to balanced opposing demands such as academics and work. It was found out that most students had conflicting experience concerning variances that are caused by competing priorities of care, study and employment. The research discovered that most students were confused because of various aspects of studying and learning. The students coped very well with pressure from the competing priorities. Only a few showed that they could not cope with the life at the university. A high number of the respondents expressed ability and willingness to manage competing and complex priorities. Additionally, most students indicated that they were ready to understand learning past consumer model that is understood to govern the relationship between the students and the university (Hamel 2001).


A critical analysis of current student intake, tertiary pathways and patterns of study in Australia indicates that earlier expectations about university-work transitions never provide essential maps for students at the university with experience. The current ratio of direct entry among students and also the combinations of paid and study have changed. Students manage various inconsistent pressures at a stipulated time and other resources. In the study, a hypothesis about compound patterns of care, work and study were established. Students were able to manage many challenging priorities as well as university life (Australian Council of Social Service 2003). 

It is asserted that student’s needs, expectations and preferences are always intricately linked to the experience and life in the university. Changes should not be understood to be related to diminishing learning dense between students and staff, or influencing the teaching exchange negatively. (Massingham 2006) investigated the declining class attendance among University students. Further, the author suggested that achieving a collaborative learning relationship is likely to strengthen class attendance and be of great benefit to graduates and improve their learning. From the research, it was revealed that there was a strong commitment among students inform of learning beyond the outcome of marketability and a degree. 

Students managed to engage in multiple social, employment and financial obligation as they finish their studies. It was discovered that paid work should be viewed as an essential aspect of life that enables students to continue with academics rather than an obstruction to studies. Students were able to display a good understanding of stressful factors on academic staff and emphasised on communication of prospect that criticizing academic staff (Massingham 2006). While students approach has many issues that pertains their study/work/life management, they revealed aspirations for more learning, recognising skills and insights which are offered by strong immersions in a definite activity or topic.

 It is affirmed that resourcefulness of students should be valued so as to cope with demand about them. Apparently, the life of students should be taken with seriousness to make proper judgements and response to their needs. Administrative and academic staff normally faces challenges that come in hand with intensifying productivity expectations and accountability. These factors play a major role in shaping institutions, classrooms and curricula interactions for staff and students (Curtis 2002). 

The students also faced same landscape of competing commitments and responsibilities. Conversely, the requirements for meaningful experiences in learning were vital to the choices of these students (Massingham 2006). These students brought complexity to think about learning recommended that academic staff and higher education institutions are likely to take the risk of talking much about experiences in learning. From the survey that was contacted among students, there is a high prospect of students being committed to their university. 


Australian Council of Social Service 2003, Barriers to university participation: ACOSS submission to the Senate Inquiry into higher education. ACOSS: Canberra. Retrieved 29 August 2012

Curtis, S 2002, 'The effect of taking paid employment during term time on students' academic studies', Journal of Further and Higher Education, vol. 26,no. 2, pp. 129-138. 

Hamel, J 2001, 'The focus group method and contemporary French sociology', Journal of Sociology, vol. 37, no. 4, pp. 341-353. 

Massingham, P & Herrington, T 2006, 'Does Attendance Matter?: An Examination of Student 

Attitudes, Participation, Performance and Attendance', Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice vol.3, no.2, pp. 82-103. 

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