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Gillard hears students’ pleas, but fails to listen

Julia Gillard’s recent backflip on the proposed Youth Allowance Scheme has attracted further criticism from students, education experts and members of the Opposition.

Changes to eligibility criteria will now be delayed until mid 2012, leaving some students feeling left out in the cold. The changes ensure current gap year students are not affected by the transition between systems but it puts students choosing to defer in 2010 directly into the transitional period, which makes qualifying for independent status much harder.

National Union of Students national president David Barrow has decried the delays that place these students into potential financial hardship. He believes the changes for current students have come at the expense of next year’s deferring students.

“It is bad news for thousands of students who now must spend an extra 18 months in student poverty,” Barrow said. “I say to Julia Gillard – put your money where your mouth is. Fixing Youth Allowance needs greater funding.”

Professor of Education Anthony Welch, of the University of Sydney, said that while some of the changes represent a “substantial liberalisation” to the current scheme, the changes pose problems for the next round of gap year students.

“The delay won’t be welcomed by students who were planning to qualify for independent status from 2011,” Professor Welch said.

Gillard, the Federal Minister for Education, has defended the move, saying the delays were part of the Rudd Government’s commitment to a budget neutral package.

“We are using the same amount of money, but making every dollar work harder to better support students,” Gillard said. “The Government’s got to be very careful about every dollar it spends.”

The Opposition has criticised the proposed changes, describing the Government’s efforts as a “failure”. According to Christopher Pine, Shadow Minister for Education, the changes and delays to Youth Allowance are problematic.

“Julia Gillard’s backflip will help only 5000 students of the 30,000 she has cut off from Youth Allowance next year, and none into the future,” Pine said in a recent statement.

– By Monica Schubert

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