User:Uowjournalism/Blue Mountains bushfire victims guaranteed university education

Monday, November 4, 2013

The University of Western Sydney (UWS), in New South Wales, Australia, has guaranteed around seven hundred Year 12 Higher School Certificate (HSC) students, whose studies were disrupted due to the devastating New South Wales bushfires, an undergraduate position through a recently announced program.

Students from the Blue Mountains and Lithgow areas have been offered a chance to further their studies through the university's "Blue Mountains Staying on Track" program. Places are offered on all the university's campuses, with a A$2,000 scholarship offered to students whose houses were destroyed.

University of Western Sydney, Campbelltown Campus
Image: Sciencefreak109.

According to pro vice-chancellor Angelo Kourtis, the devastation experienced by 45 current UWS students motivated the university's initiative. "The University was moved by the impact of the fires on our own staff and students and we paused to think about how this might be affecting students who are currently doing the HSC", he said, continuing, "The stress that students would be feeling around HSC time would have been amplified by this tragedy [...] The impact on their preparations would have been severely compromised by the fires."

UWS Vice-Chancellor Janice Reid similarly remarked, "Studying the HSC and applying to university can be stressful enough without the additional stress of worrying about your family and your home." She said this generation of students should not be exempt from the same educational opportunities as its predecessors due to the unfortunate circumstances.

Eight schools closed during the fires, with some students evacuated mid-exams. Some students abandoned study to help protect their homes, or to join with the firefighters.

Eighteen-year-old Antonia Vial from Winmalee High School lost her family home, destroying not only irreplaceable belongings, but also study notes and material.

"The worst part was probably just missing that feeling of coming home to relax, it was all exhausting and you didn't even have that alone time," Antonia said. "It's kind of unfair... but this offer definitely makes me feel a lot more safe and secure. It gets rid of that extra worry that's on everyone's mind."

Although there is the option to apply for academic consideration through the Board of Studies, according to eighteen-year-old Clare Belfanti, "the guaranteed offer lifted a massive weight off your shoulders."

The UWS program offers courses including arts, nursing, business, policing, science, engineering, computing and teaching, and to Janice Reid, it is important for the students to have this variety of displicines available.

"Higher education provides a strong foundation on which people can fulfill their aspirations, build their career, support themselves and their families and — perhaps most importantly for the years ahead — for communities to grow."

When Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill heard of the university's plan, he said, he was "completely and utterly speechless," continuing "this is not just a statement about these students [...] it is a statement of support for the entire community of the Blue Mountains".