A LACK of affordable housing for university students around the country is now at "crisis levels", and the picture is worse for regional students, a Senate inquiry was told today.
The Senate inquiry examining housing affordability today heard from the National Union of Students' welfare officer Jack Gracie.
In a submission from the students' union it highlighted that students were being "forced to choose between turning on the heater in winter or eating adequately or seeking medical attention, in large part due to excessively high rental costs.
Mr Gracie told the committee the current rental assistance scheme for students was providing between $40 and $60 a week to help, but it was not enough to meet average rents of between $200 and $350 a week for many students.
He said means-tests on rental assistance were not enough, and that they should be restricted to those most in need, on incomes around $22,000, and rental assistance should be increased by $25 a week.
"I think there's no doubt that students are feeling financial pressures across the board, and housing, is the big one," he said.
"I would say that we're at the crisis point now, if not very close to the crisis point.
"This goes beyond the current students, it goes to graduate students, who if they can't find a job, will be excluded from Newstart for six months, and other (budget) changes are going to affect graduates even more now."
Mr Gracie said the financial pressures on students in cities and regional areas alike would be further exacerbated by the Abbott government's plans to deregulate the fees system.
"If the government is serious about creating an Ivy League in Australia, I don't believe you can have a situation that excludes people not only on the basis of fees, but also on the basis of accommodation," he said.
Mr Gracie said the situation was even worse for regional students, many of whom face higher transport costs to get to and from university, and many of whom had no support network to rely on.
It was a point which Regional University Network chairman Professor Peter Lee agreed, lending his support behind the NUS call to increase rental assistance.
He said at regional universities, the lack of affordable student housing would have a bigger effect, in part due to "a lack of public transport in regional Australia".
"Even if you live an hour away by car, often times there's no public transport that allows a student to get to campus. So often they are forced to move to live closer to campus," he said.
Prof Lee said with many students in regional areas coming from lower income families and "first in family" (to study at university), the financial pressure was greater.
The RUN and Group of Eight on Monday called for an "adjustment package" to help ease the transition to a deregulated fee market for regional universities.
Prof Lee said given the government's plans for higher education, and the lack of affordable housing for regional students, "if you just let the market rip, you run the risk of regional universities and students suffering".
The Senate inquiry is expected to report its findings to parliament in November this year. - APN NEWSDESK