Pacific Island leaders say the cost of university study in Australia is contributing to social problems among their young people and in the wider community.

Since 2001, Pacific Islander students have been unable to defer the cost of tertiary study, making it too expensive for most to attend university.

The problem is highly visible in Logan City, south of Brisbane, home to one of the biggest communities of Pacific Islanders in the country.

Visesio Kite, a youth worker at the Youth and Family Services agency in Logan, says the rules on higher education contributions frustrate efforts to keep local kids in school and out of trouble.

"They do really well to get grades and they go for their OPs, but after that what other options exist for them?" he said, adding that limited opportunities are a considerable factor in the well-publicised social problems in Logan.

"That's why I guess you find issues with the young people getting together and getting up to no good," he said.

"I guess they seek solace in those groups."

Tracey Cook, Deputy Principal of Woodridge State High, where 350 of the 1100 students have Pacific Islands backgrounds, says the school has been working in partnership with Griffith University to persuade such students to pursue tertiary studies.

"We are really trying to build the self-belief of students and build their aspirations," she said.

"Let them know that there are multiple pathways to achieve their goals."

Logan also has a high proportion of New Zealand born students who, like Pacific Islanders, cannot access higher education loans from the Federal Government.

The latest Census data in 2011 shows almost 500,000 New Zealand-born people now live in Australia. About 43 per cent of those people arrived after 2001, the cut-off for accessing benefits.

In June, the Federal Government announced that education loans would be made available to New Zealand and Pacific Islander students in 2015.

However, the legislation had not passed by the time the federal election was called.

Ms Cook admits the financial barrier is simply too great for many students to overcome.

"The reality for some of our kids is it just isn't possible because of the financial difficulty of accessing university," she said.

Taylor Jensen's father returned to New Zealand after his mother died.

The 17-year-old turned to Logan's Youth and Family Services for support after dropping out of school but opting to stay in Australia.

"Working here, I've learnt a lot of things - it's basically school," he said of the not-for-profit service.

He acknowledges that without the support, his life would have taken a very different turn.

"I would be really messed up right now," he said.

"I'd be, you know, typical teenager - stoned, alcoholic, drugs, everything."

Griffith University's Pacific Island liaison officer Glenda Stanley says the university has become involved in helping young people through their Legacy, Education, Achievement, Dream (LEAD) program.

"If we invest time in providing them tangible skills and opportunities for training, employment and education we will see a very different side of these young people," she said.

The program provides pathways to university for students with Pacific Islander backgrounds and aims to break down cultural stereotypes standing in their way.

Filipo Tuita, a student involved in LEAD, admits career aspirations are often limited among Pacific Islanders.

"From the Islanders' point of view there are only two jobs out there, and that's sport and construction," he said.

Woodridge student Jonathon Mafoe says the program has made him determined to create a better life for himself.

"I hope to study medicine and one day become a doctor," he said.

"Every morning when my Mum drops me off to school, she keeps reminding me of that same goal."

 

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