Jennifer Allen grew up in the western suburbs and studied arts at Melbourne University after getting excellent results in her VCE studying in an adult TAFE program. Jennifer deferred after one semester of study.
“When I arrived at uni, the lectures were very overcrowded. Students were sitting in the aisles. The major problem I had was with the literature course. To fit in more students, they cut back the amount of tutorial time from two hours to one hour per week. I found it extremely hard. The lectures concentrated on literary theory, and this meant that there was simply no time to discuss all of the books. I couldn’t get it all together in my head. I needed someone to discuss it with. It was quite debilitating really.
I had difficulty accessing the library resources. Although Melbourne Uni has a strict reserve system, it is only possible to get the books for a brief period. I wanted to photocopy, but I just couldn’t afford to. So I was always behind.
They have a really unfair system for photocopying. If you pay $10 then it costs 10 cents per copy, but if you can’t afford $10 up front, it costs 20 cents per copy. So the rich students get a discount and the poor students, all of us are on Austudy, just don’t have the money.
I got $180 per fortnight on Austudy, even though I was living independently. Austudy said that I ‘didn’t have the right reasons for living independently!’ To qualify, a student has to live 90 minutes or more away from university, or their parents have kicked them out of home or they must have worked for a number of years before studying. But heaps of people do not qualify. The system fosters dependency when people are independent! I was so poor being forced to live on this amount that it really affected my studies.
Finances were one of the major reasons I decided to defer. The overcrowding was another. I was having problems with having so many people jammed into a classroom. It was just packed all the time.
I’ve wracked up quite a bit of HECS. Three years ago, I did first year in urban studies at Footscray Institute of Technology. I got a $1,800 debt from that before I even started at Melbourne Uni. I got good marks at FIT, but it wasn’t recognised anywhere else. I had to go back and do VCE again and now I have had to do first year again. I have got double HECS for first year. They recognise my debt, but they won’t recognise my results! It is just a totally unfair way of getting money out of poor students.”