AN American company claims 326 University of Newcastle students were registered as "Sugar Babies" in 2019 under arrangements with "Sugar Daddies" where sex can be traded for money to pay university fees.
A company called SeekingArrangement ranked the Hunter university seventh in Australia for the number of students registered last year, with the University of Melbourne topping the list with a claimed 554 students registered.
The figures appeared in a statement to media outlets on Monday in which the company said the arrangements helped students "date successful benefactors who help them avoid student debt and secure a better future".
The company claimed thousands of Australian students at universities across the country were "swapping ramen and dollar beers for caviar and champagne".
"With more than a million students throughout Australia, many of them are turning to Sugar Dating to help fund their education."
A University of Newcastle lecturer, who asked not to be named, said she had "not heard of this at all, and certainly not from any students".
"It's complete news to me," the lecturer said.
But she was concerned about the potential risks faced by students under such arrangements in an area that lacks regulation. The alleged figures would be raised with relevant senior university representatives, the lecturer said.
Another lecturer, who also did not want to be named, said she had heard of Sugar Babies but was stunned that 326 University of Newcastle students might be involved.
A Newcastle University Students Association spokesperson said she was also aware of the term but did not know anyone directly involved in a "Sugar Babies" arrangement.
"I can't comment on those numbers and whether they're true or not. There should be regulation, but I suppose some people might see it as a job. We're available with support for anyone who might experience trouble with such an arrangement, or who needs help with a situation," the spokesperson said.
The University of Newcastle was contacted for comment.
Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon said it was "gravely concerning if this is happening in our community".
"It is horrifying to think that students now face such significant personal debt and financial pressures that they feel they have no choice but to take on this sort of high-risk arrangement just to survive," Ms Claydon said.
"It's absolutely unconscionable for any company's business model to be built on the exploitation of young, and often vulnerable, university students. The gross power inequities in these so-called arrangements are appalling, as is referring to students as 'sugar babies'. Any pretence this is about student wellbeing instead of the shameless pursuit of profit is nonsense."