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My "problem":

I am from Austria and currently in the process of applying for a PhD position in Brisbane, Australia. My supervisors said that I might be eligible for an APA (Australian Postgraduate Awards) stipend which is supposed to cover my living expenses in AUS. Receiving this scholarship would also mean that I wouldn't be paying any tuition fees. The total stipend amount is 26,288 AU$ / year. And as far as I know, I would be allowed to work up to 8 hours a week to earn some extra money (I.e. as a teaching assitant). I don't know how much the hourly rates for this type of job are, but if I speculate and say it's about 20AUS$/h, this would result in a total weekly budget of approximately 660AU$ (including wage and scholarship).

My question:

Can I make a living with this amount of money in an expensive city like Brisbane? Could I maybe even safe up some money to fly back to Europe once a year to visit my family and friends? Any experiences or useful links of (international) PhD Students in Australia are appreciated (I.e. on insurance costs, etc.).

Note: I know that the Australian Government says that the average living expenses per year are AU$18,610, but they don't explicitly state how they calculate this sum. When I checked the costs for housing, food, insurance, etc., the sum exceeded this official number by far.

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    Ask people at the school you plan to attend. It might be too little for a regular guy, but as a student you could have access e.g.to cheap housing (or other advantages, perhaps linked to TA or RA). – vonbrand Mar 6 '16 at 20:15
  • Yes. The stipend is similar in Sydney which, from my understanding, is even more expensive. I wanted to do a PhD there and I asked a few friends/colleagues. Money will be tight but it's doable. – la femme cosmique Mar 6 '16 at 20:18
  • @lafemmecosmique, the scholarship amount is set federally and does not vary from city-to-city. – tobyodavies Mar 7 '16 at 1:08
  • Alright, if that is the case then you won't starve or be unable to make your rent - you just won't be rich either (So the usual situation for a PhD student ;) ). You get discounted travel as well (except in NSW, where you are not) as a student. One weird thing about Australia is that eating out can be cheaper than making your own food, but you need to experiment with this one. – la femme cosmique Mar 7 '16 at 6:40
  • You can see the casual teaching and research assistant rates for any australian university. Just note that many of the higher rates (e.g., for tutoring - say $100 or more per hour) sometimes include associated planning and/or marking. Also, consider tax; the apa scholarship is generally tax free. So if you are only earning $10,000 or so on top of that, you wont be paying much/any income tax. So in that sense it has benefits over the equivalent amount of money from other sources. – Jeromy Anglim Mar 7 '16 at 7:23
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Australia, New Zealand, the UK, etc. have standardized rates for stipends - and in fact for minimum wages in general - that's also inflation-corrected and increased accordingly every year. Though the minimum wage stuff also is there in the USA, there is no inflation correction in any government jobs/public (and most of the times private) universities. The stipend you have mentioned is calculated from a standard Australian government agency that governs (indirectly) the APA awards. Hence I would not worry about its calculation as it would be correctly calculated to the precision of the inflation-correction till this year. I used to get around 18,500, 18,800 and 19,150AUD (approximate figures) back in 2007 to 2009 in Perth, and my wife and I had a happy life (we didn't have kids then though)! I could afford to rent a 1living room+1br+kitchen apartment (called unit in Australia) some 7kms from the city center. If you want to live quite close to the campus, then you will have to pay quite a bit - or share an apartment with others. I could buy and drive a used car. There is not too bad (much better than any city the USA except NYC, for example, but not so great compared to Europe) public transportation. The tickets and monthly passes were discounted for the students.

My wife and I went back to our home country just once in 3 years but that's not because we couldn't afford it but for other personal reasons.

One more thing - you don't pay tax on this stipend. So you get the full in your pocket.

You obviously can't afford too much partying, eating out, etc. with this money. But for a student with usual studentsy life-style, the stipend is calculated well. Or, the other way around, if someone is spending more money than this stipend, then he\she is living a bit more expensive life than the 'average' student - not passing any judgement here, just giving a practical financial comparison. The health insurance was covered by my award for me and my wife as well. I don't know if and why they have changed the rules recently about covering the health insurance. For the other paid work such as tutoring. It may very well be even more than 20AUD/hour. The academia is (mostly) unionized there and the union negotiates the wage-range for each job in academia including tutoring every year to make sure that the inflation-correction is correctly implemented in the wages. I was also an international ph.d. student in Australia, and working in the USA these days. And I am ready to say on record that Australia has been the best thing that has happened to me - and I would love to go back for a permanent job there if there is any such opportunity! I really wish you get the time of your life both academically and personally.

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I'm a current PhD student at the University of Melbourne. I can just support myself and one other person on my $30,000 of scholarships. I also live with just my partner (no housemates), our rent is just under $400/week + bills. So if you are OK with a more student-like experience you are likely to be fine, and use TA work to save for flights you need to take back to Europe.

Your estimate is quite low for TA work: the minimum wage for casual cafe or fast-food workers in Australia is over $22/hr. I get $44/hr for TAing, though this may just be Melbourne Uni. Also scholarships are tax-free, meaning you may not have to pay any income tax (as it would be nearly impossible to earn over the $18200 tax-free threshold given visa restrictions).

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    I get about $44/hour and the University of West Australia, for TAing. so I would say it is fairly standard – Lyndon White Mar 7 '16 at 1:35
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I am also from Austria and currently based at a university in Queensland. My personal experience is that the scholarship plus the extra income from casual teaching contracts (42-62 AU$/hr at my institution) is enough to make a living and even save some money. But this depends on your lifestyle of course. Unlike in Austria, you will get the student consession for public transportation in Queensland as a PhD student. On a side note, as an international student you will not be eligible to apply for the APA scholarship but only for a Postgraduate Research Scholarship (PRS) or International Postgraduate Research Scholarship (IPRS), which pay the same stipend as the APA but are typically more competitive. The latter one covers health insurance and visa costs as far as I know.

As others have pointed out, consider that you have to pay your health insurance upfront (depending on your scholarship), and be aware that the scholarship does not contribute to your superannuation or retirement fund. This is different from most paid PhD positions in Austria in my experience.

Some departments at my instition also award top-up scholarships of AU$10000 p.a. to their PhD students, and I would encourage you to discuss this with your prospective sueprvisor or department.

Good luck with your application.

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I am based in another Australian city that has a similar cost of living to Brisbane. I had four students working with me over summer, and asked them what they were spending on living expenses so I would be in a better position to advise the next batch of students. They were spending betweek $150 and $200 per week each on accommodation (for rooms in houses shared with other students) and between $35 and $100 per week on food.

Regarding health insurance, if it is not included with the scholarship, you will need Overseas Student Health Cover, http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/Publishing.nsf/Content/Overseas+Student+Health+Cover+FAQ-1#insurersofferoshc, which costs only about $437/year and covers all the necessary basics. Private health insurance on top of this can be much more expensive, but is not really necessary unless you want faster treatment for non-emergency care.

The amount provided by Australian PhD scholarships is intended to cover basic costs of living. It's about at the poverty line: you can certainly live on it, and most of your PhD student peers will be doing the same, but you won't be well off. If you are a single, healthy person living frugally, you can save enough to cover occasional trips home. Your scholarship will also include an amount (in addition to the stipend) to cover at least one overseas conference during your candidature, and you might be able to make a side-trip to visit family after the conference.

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    "It's about at the poverty line". That's certainly one way of looking at it. But I used to see me as a "rich student" because I could afford everything that other students couldn't! – John Mar 7 '16 at 6:00
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Yes, you can do it but do not expect it to be similar with PhD salaries in Europe. The APA should be roughly enough to cover your expenses on a week to week basis.

Better do all your calculations with the $500 number and not the $660 per week as the TA money would be only for half the year and it is less common for PhDs to have TA With that money and no other income you are realistically looking into sharing a house or apartment (2-3 people) and in Sydney that would be in the range of $250-$400 with bills included, depending on where you choose to leave, how old or new will the flat be and how long you are willing to commute every day. Rents will be slightly less (or closer to the lower range) from the above numbers. (My recommendation would be to choose somewhere closer to the uni so you can walk or cycle and avoid using public transport on a daily basis)

The rest should be enough to cover your daily expenses, shopping, cooking, transportation and the occasional eating outside ($150-$200). The money from your TA should cover a flight back, but count it as an extra and do not include it to your weekly estimates.

For insurance, you will have to get "Overseas Student Health Cover" or OSHC which should be roughly $2500 to cover 4 years of study. You can do the calculations for yourself here: https://www.oshcallianzassistance.com.au/#anCalculate and you will need to buy that as part of your student visa application before you even arrive in Australia.

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it is very difficult to make it work, in most parts of AU. I'd be careful about attempting it without some savings, guaranteed uni work, or the possibility of family assistance--which is how most people make it work. The APA is less than minimum wage, and most of Australia has crazy high rents--even for shared housing. Your budgeting is correct--the numbers just don't add up. I don't know where the poster lives who says it is cheaper to eat out than buy groceries--in the Sydney and Melbourne areas, a salad out is 30 dollars. Grocery food is fine--expensive by European standards, but you can live on noodles and beans. it is the rents that are, and some of the health care that can be, expensive. Even with insurance, there are additional health costs for many doctor visits, tests, etc--not covered by insurance (either for Australian nationals or international visitors/students). Again, the APA award is less than AU minimum wage--which itself does not cover basic costs of living in much of Australia--so no, the award is not enough, unless someone lucks into bizarrely cheap housing, or has existing savings to supplement the award. Do not think you will automatically get work on campus at $44-62 dollar/hour rates. Jobs are few and far between on many campuses. If campus work is your supplementation plan, get a commitment from the Uni for that work before accepting.

  • I must disagree . as an undergraduate i lived on <2/3rds the amount the APA pays. i mean it depends what one is used to. being poor is a skill, i guess. – Lyndon White Apr 5 '17 at 8:36

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