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$320 weekly cash boost for Aussies facing 'poverty'

Nursing, teaching, midwifery and social work students will be eligible for the weekly payment.

University students struggling to juggle unpaid placements, study and work will get a new allowance under a plan set out in the 2024 Federal Budget. But the cash injection has onerous requirements.

The financial support targets students undertaking mandatory unpaid placements in several health or teaching fields. The full payment is $319.50 a week, but not all will be eligible and it won't come into effect until next year.

Here's what you need to know about the Commonwealth Prac Payment, aimed at helping students who struggle to afford basics like food and housing after sacrificing hours of paid work for their studies.

Find out how the 2024 Federal Budget will impact you by following Yahoo Finance’s coverage here.

An empty wallet and an inset of a dollar coin.
Placement poverty is leaving some Aussies choosing between completing their education or putting food on the table. Some students will now be eligible for an extra allowance. (Getty/Yahoo Finance Australia)

The initiative will be targeted at around 73,000 students facing "placement poverty" during their clinical and professional placement periods.

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It will come into effect on July 1 next year, which means students currently struggling will have to endure until then.

The weekly payment is for students studying:

  • Nursing

  • Teaching

  • Midwifery

  • Social work

The payment is $319.50 a week and is only payable during placement periods.

The payment is benchmarked to the single Austudy rate. Students don't need to stress if they are getting other support payments as the new allowance won't be impacted.

The payment is set to be means tested, but the details have not been agreed upon by unions, employers or student groups.

Yahoo Finance has spoken to students forced to do unpaid placements who said the hundreds, if not thousands, of lost hours of potential work means they struggle to afford basics like food and housing.

The stipend was a recommendation of the Australian Universities Accord, which reviewed the performance and effectiveness of the higher education system.

Practical placement is a mandatory part of many university degrees, however some are far more intensive than others.

Social workers are expected to do 1,000 hours of full-time unpaid practical placements, while education students need to do at least 80 days.

Both of these fields are included in the relief package, while degrees like occupational therapy, which need 1,000 hours of unpaid work, are not.

There's been some controversy about who is included and excluded from the program.

The higher education review also recommended industries help cover expenses for students in other professions like veterinary science, engineering or clinical psychology.

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Education Minister Jason Clare has said broadening the courses involved is something that will be reviewed "down the track".

There's also a bit of conversation around the difference between mandatory placements and work experience. The latter is described as voluntary, but some see this type of unpaid work as a necessary evil. It helps build your resume or network, which in the long run can be the difference in getting a job or not.

There are already examples of students being paid, or given financial support to do placements. For example, final-year nursing students were offered a $5,000 cost-of-living allowance if they did a placement in regional, remote or rural Queensland. This could be another answer to placement poverty.

Employers and universities are also being called on to take responsibility for the financial wellbeing of students performing unpaid work to finish their qualifications.

The announcement comes after the federal government revealed it wants to wipe $3 billion in HECS-HELP student loan debt for millions of Aussies.

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