DESPITE a system which selects students for university courses based on merit and defers their course fees until they complete their degrees, rural and regional students still face a hefty cost burden compared with their metropolitan peers.
Country Education Foundation chief executive officer Sarah Taylor said rural and regional students enrolling at metropolitan universities faced the daunting task of saving up to cover the costs of accommodation, food and other living expenses during their study, which added up to $25,000-$35,000 a year.
"Some of the resident colleges in Sydney are charging $25,000 for the year next year," she said.
"Rural and regional kids are 30 per cent more likely to take a gap year, and that's not to kick around Europe, it would absolutely be to work."
As a result, Ms Taylor said many students relied on multiple forms of assistance to get them through, including casual jobs, youth allowance if their parents earned less than $150,000 a year, and scholarships.
She said some parents faced the tough reality of telling their child they could not accept a place at a Sydney-based university because they could not afford to support them.
"Sydney is in a league of its own and many parents would write Sydney off," she said
According to the CEF, rural school-leavers are half as likely to attend university as city students and Ms Taylor said attrition rates were higher than metropolitan students who could remain at home while they studied.
"It can be directly attributed to having to move away from their support structures so that adds the additional burden of managing a household and they're more likely to be holding down one or more jobs," she said.
"It also makes an impact on their grades because often they have to choose between a lecture or a class and working a shift because they need to make ends meet," she said.
The difference in costs has prompted the CEF to compile a tertiary scholarship guide to allow students to access support.
"This guide has hundreds of scholarships, some for particular disciplines, some directly for rural and regional students, disability, ethnicity, financial disadvantage, there's all sorts of criteria," Ms Taylor said.
"The message is to really apply for as many as you can."
But with a limited number of scholarships available, she acknowledged even youth allowance was "nowhere near" enough to survive in Sydney.
The CEF itself sponsors 600 students a year and Ms Taylor said mentoring meant more than 90 per cent of those students completed their degree, but she also said allowing rural students to add their expenses onto their HECS debt could be a step in the right direction.
But she was not optimistic about a further allowance removing the inequity in living expenses.
"It's unrealistic to expect that in the current climate - some of the proposals are to reduce those allowances which currently exist," she said.
"Even relocation allowances are under threat."
The 2015 CEF Tertiary Scholarships Guide can be found at https://cef.org.au/students/scholarships.